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Kill Now, Think Later: MDOC has not studied any of the alternative methods of execution proposed by HB 638

NEW ORLEANS – The civil rights law firm that represents Mississippi death-sentenced prisoners in litigation against the lethal injection drugs chosen by the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has learned that MDOC has not studied how any of the alternative methods of execution proposed by House Bill 638 would be implemented.

Jim Craig, Co-Director of the New Orleans office of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center and lead counsel in the method of execution lawsuits, today released correspondence between MDOC and MacArthur attorney Emily Washington. On January 3, 2017, Washington sent a public records request to MDOC. One of the specific requests in the January 3 letter sought any and all documents from March 2016 until January 2017 that direct or discuss “how MDOC will carry out executions or has contemplated carrying out executions (including but not limited to by lethal injection, by electrocution, by firing squad, and by nitrogen gas).”

House Bill 638, which passed out of the Mississippi House of Representatives on February 8, adds nitrogen gas, the firing squad, and electrocution as methods of execution available to MDOC if lethal injection “is held unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction or is otherwise unavailable.”

On January 26, Special Assistant Attorney General Darrell C. Baughn, one of MDOC’s lawyers, responded to the January 3 request. MDOC’s response did not include any documents about the alternative methods of execution. On January 31, Washington brought this discrepancy to the attention of MDOC’s attorney. In a letter mailed February 1, 2017, MDOC confirmed that it had “no records responsive” to the request for any documents discussing how MDOC would conduct executions using nitrogen gas, the firing squad, or eectrocution.

Craig noted the implications of the MDOC response: “it’s incomprehensible that someone – either the Attorney General, MDOC, or both – has proposed legislation to permit new methods of execution without making any effort to study how those methods would be used. No state has ever executed a condemned prisoner with nitrogen gas. MDOC hasn’t used electrocution since the early 1950s. And only two jurisdictions use the firing squad. It’s irresponsible for MDOC and General Hood to press the Legislature for permission to use these untried methods before doing their homework.”

“The passage of HB 638 isn’t going to move executions faster in Mississippi,” Craig said. “The MDOC seeks to move forward with new methods without conducting any research or study into how the methods would be implemented and what risks and harm may be involved. This will force us to add claims to our existing complaints on the basis of MDOC’s deliberate indifference to the risks of torture raised by the new methods. The Senate needs to ask MDOC and the Attorney General some hard questions before wasting limited legislative time and resources on half-baked ideas like these.”

1/3/17 RSMJC letter requesting public records from MDOC

1/26/17 MDOC response to RSMJC records request

1/31/17 RSMJC follow-up letter seeking public records from MDOC

2/2/17 MDOC response to RSMJC follow-up records request

Keywords: lethal injection, MDOC, Mississippi

Posted in News releases