by David M. Reutter
A Mississippi law that became effective on July 1, 2022, gives the state Department of Corrections (DOC) the discretion to choose the method of execution for a condemned prisoner. In addition, it added nitrogen hypoxia, electrocution, and firing squad as execution options, while declaring intravenous injection of lethal drugs as the state’s preferred method of execution.
State Rep. Nick Bain (R-Corinth) sponsored House Bill 1479. It allows the manner of inflicting the punishment of death to be determined at “the discretion of the Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner for Finance and Administration, and the Deputy Commissioner for Institutions” of the DOC.
This is unprecedented discretion for state officials. “Three (DOC) officials make this decision without any stated guidelines other than a general preference for injection,” said Ngozi Ndulue, deputy director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “I’m not aware of another state that structures their methods of execution decisions in this way.”
Nitrogen hypoxia — suffocating a prisoner to death — is also approved for executions in Alabama and Oklahoma. Three other states allow death by firing squad: Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. In all of those, however, the method is the prisoner’s choice.
In addition to adding more ways to conduct an execution, the law redefined lethal injection as “the injection of a substance or substances in a lethal quantity into the body.” It thereby allows the state to use a single drug, eliminating the need for the customary three-drug combination that has been the standard nationwide. Why? The use of drugs to perform executions has been resisted by drug companies.
“In the last 10 years, pharmaceutical companies whose drugs were used for lethal injections have really expressed their unwillingness to have their drugs being used that way,” Ngozi noted. “The companies have said that they want their drug to be used for therapeutic purposes, not for executions. And because of that pharmaceutical companies have restricted the use of them in their drug distribution agreements, in contracts with states, etc.”
The unavailability of drugs has resulted in a de facto stay on executions in many states, requiring legislative maneuvers like Mississippi’s to get the machinery of death moving again. Under the new law, once the Mississippi Supreme Court issues a death warrant, DOC officials have seven days to notify the prisoner and his legal team of the intended method.
Mississippi is one of 27 states that practice the death penalty. Its last prisoner executed was Thomas Edwin Loden, Jr. On December 14, 2022, he was injected with midazolam, a sedative, followed by vecuronium bromide, a paralytic, and then potassium chloride, which stopped his heart. A former recruiter for the U.S. Marines, he stopped to help Leesa Marie Gray with a flat tire in 2001 and ended up sexually assaulting her for hours before he strangled and suffocated her. Her mother attended his execution, and he apologized to her before he died.
“For the past 20 years, I’ve tried to do a good deed every single day to make up for the life I took from this world,” Loden told Wanda Farris. “I know these are mere words and cannot erase the damage I did. If today brings you nothing else, I hope you get peace and closure.”
The irony of Mississippi’s enthusiasm for the death penalty is that it is staunchly “pro-life” for the unborn. But life in the Magnolia State gets progressively worse after birth: The United Health Foundation reports the state has the highest incidence of childhood poverty in the U.S., and its residents lose more years to premature death than those in any other state, thanks to high rates of disease and malnutrition.
Additional sources: Clarion-Ledger
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