New Study Finds Vast Racial and Geographic Disparities in Florida Executions

New research released on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday by Political Science Professor Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina reveals significant and troubling racial, gender, and geographic disparities with regards to who is executed in Florida. The study, which looks at executions that were carried out between 1976 and 2014, details how the race and gender of the victim, as well as the county in which the crime occurred, improperly influence who is sentenced to death and executed in the state.
Professor Baumgartner noted, “The most troubling finding is that these racial and geographic disparities are not measured by a few percentage points of difference. Rather, they differ by orders of magnitude, demonstrating that Florida’s death penalty is plagued by vast inequities which will undermine public confidence in the state’s ability to carry out the death penalty in a fair and impartial manner.”
“This research raises troubling questions about the administration of the death penalty in Florida,” said John K. Cochran, a professor in the Department of Criminology at the University of South Florida. “The race or gender of a victim, and the location of the crime, should not influence who is sentenced to die, but this new study shows that it does. Florida citizens and lawmakers should review the findings of this important research.”
Major findings include:
  • Homicides involving White female victims are 6.5 times more like to result in an execution than homicides in involving Black male victims.
  • 72% of all executions carried out in Florida between 1976 and 2014 were for crimes involving White victims despite the fact that 56% of all homicide victims are White.
  • Only 26% of all homicide victims are female, but 43% of all executions carried out in Florida were for homicides involving female victims.
  • To date, no White person has been executed in Florida for a homicide involving a Black victim. In contrast, 71% of the executions carried out against Black inmates were for homicides involving White victims. In cases where Black inmates were executed, 56% of the victims were White.
  • Just six out of Florida’s 67 counties are responsible for more than half of the state’s 89 executions.
  • Only four counties (Miami-Dade, Orange, Duval, and Pinellas) have produced more than five executions. More than half of all Florida counties (36) have never produced an execution.
  • Seven Florida counties (Bradford, Wakulla, Santa Rosa, Madison, Colombia, Lake, and Hernando) have execution rates that are more than triple the state’s average execution rate of .30 executions per 100 homicides.
  • The homicide rate in counties that have produced no executions (1.11 homicides per 1,000 population) is significantly lower than the homicide rate in counties that have produced executions (1.62 homicides per 1,000 population).
The release of this report comes just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court found, by an 8-1 vote, that Florida’s death penalty statute violates the Sixth Amendment because juries rather than judges should ultimately determine whether a defendant is eligible to receive a death sentence.
To schedule an interview with Professor Baumgartner or Professor Cochran, please call 510-393-4549 or email Professor Baumgartner’s full bio is available here:

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Now that executions involve the “healing professions,” many of the professional associations are making formal statements opposing the participation of their members in executions.  The most recent group to begin organizing is pharmacists. POPE stands for Pharmacist Opposed to Participation in Executions.
Their stated goal is to “promote discussion by pharmacists and pharmacy organizations on the ethical issues surrounding the participation of pharmacists in legally authorized executions, with the hope that individual pharmacists and pharmacy organizations will take a position opposing their participation in any manner as suppliers of the lethal substances or advisors of the substances to be used in executions.”

They have created a flier that you can print and leave for your pharmacist to help make him or her aware of POPE.  Download a flier about POPE — written by pharmacists for pharmacists.

The POPE website lists the other medical professions that have made statements against lethal injection:

American Medical Association: The AMA “Code of Medical Ethics” states: “A physician, as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, should not be a participant in a legally authorized execution.” The AMA statement goes on to say that “participation” includes anything that would assist or contribute to the execution, not necessarily performing the execution.

American Board of Anesthesiology: Among the healing professions, perhaps the strongest position is that of ABA, which states that participation by their diplomats (certified practitioners) in lethal injection may result in revocation of board certification.

American Nurses Association: The ANA Code of Ethics states that the ANA “is strongly opposed to nurse participation in capital punishment. Participation in executions, either directly or indirectly, is viewed as contrary to the fundamental goals and ethical traditions of the nursing profession.”

National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians: NAEMT “is strongly opposed to participation in capital punishment by an EMT, paramedic or other emergency medical professional. Participation in executions is viewed as contrary to the fundamental goals and ethical obligations of emergency medical services.”

Others Health Professions: Many other professions have expressed the view that participation in executions is unethical, including the American Psychiatric Association, World Medical Association, International Council of Nurses, American Public Health Association, National Commission on Correctional Health Care. The American Psychological Association has called for a moratorium on the death penalty due to errors and deficiencies in how it is being implemented.

Other Professions: Pharmaceutical companies in Europe, Asia, and the US have refused to provide drugs to be used in executions. There is even a movement among architects to add to their code of ethics wording that would prohibit members from designing execution chambers.

Secrecy Shrouds State’s Lethal Injection Drugs

Tribune staff
Published: February 19, 2014

TALLAHASSEE — Carrying out the death penalty is often the highest-profile function of state government.

Yet Florida’s lethal injection procedure is both the most open and most secret.

The Department of Corrections maintains a 13-page document on its website, detailing the injection protocol down to syringe sizes and the mix of chemicals.

At the same time, officials refuse to disclose how much of the execution drugs the state has or where it gets them.

Click on the link for the rest of the story:  Secrecy Shrouds State’s Lethal Injection Drugs


Release of execution-drug information could cause “jeopardy,” state says

James L. Rosica in Tallahassee
Published: June 3, 2014

The state has rejected a public records request about its execution drugs, saying releasing the information would “jeopardize a person’s safety.”

The letter from the Department of Corrections to a Tallahassee anti-death penalty activist was dated May 8 and provided to the Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau this week.

In March, Sheila Meehan, chair of Tallahassee Citizens Against the Death Penalty, asked the department for records showing how it was getting the drugs used for lethal injections and from where.

Meehan’s request came after a botched execution in Oklahoma, in which the procedure was halted but the condemned man later died of a heart attack.

The information Meehan sought is “confidential” and exempt from the state’s open-records law, department attorney Rana Wallace wrote.

Specifically, Wallace cited the exemptions of “information which if released would jeopardize a person’s safety” and “information which identifies … any person prescribing, preparing, compounding, dispensing, or administering a lethal injection.”

Fresh Squeezed left a message Tuesday for Corrections Department spokeswoman Jessica Cary for clarification on who’s being “jeopardized” and how. We’ll update when we hear back.


Lacking Lethal Injection Drugs, States Find Untested Backups

by NPR Staff

October 26, 2013

The U.S. is facing a shortage of a drug widely used for lethal injections. With few options, states are turning to new drugs and compounding pharmacies, rather than overseas companies.

The move is raising safety concerns, and in some cases delaying executions. Other executions are proceeding, however, and advocates are asking whether the use of new drugs violates the inmates’ Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

A Witness To Lethal Injection

In 1989, William Happ was sentenced to death for the murder and rape of 21-year-old Angie Crowley. For decades, Happ appealed and lost.

His death sentence remained, but the method of execution had changed since his conviction. , Florida had used the electric chair to execute prisoners, but in 2000, facing pressure from the Supreme Court, the state switched to lethal injection.

More than a quarter century after Crowley’s murder, Happ’s execution date was finally set for Oct. 15, 2013. But the state had a problem: Supplies of pentobarbital, a drug commonly used for executions, were running low. As the execution date approached, the state ran out of the drug altogether.

So the Florida Department of Corrections decided to use a new drug — a sedative called midazolam that had never been tested for execution. Nobody knew exactly how it would work.

Associated Press reporter Brendan Farrington was in the viewing room. “It’s a very solemn, serious, quiet atmosphere. There’s no talking,” he tells All Things Considered host Arun Rath.



In May 2007, TCADP wrote a letter to Governor Charlie Crist identifying problems with the lethal injection procedure and the work of the Lethal Injection Commission.   The letter is reprinted below:


May 16, 2007

Dear Governor Crist:

Tallahassee Citizens Against the Death Penalty have been carefully observing the hard work done by the Lethal Injection Commission and the Florida Department of Corrections regarding changes to the lethal injection process.  As you can see from the name of our organization, we are opposed to capital punishment.  If however, people are to be killed by the State of Florida, the procedures must be as transparent and humane as possible.

While it is clear that Secretary McDonough has taken this responsibility very seriously, we respectfully disagree with one of the major conclusions of the DOC Task Force: the continuation of the thirty-year-old “cocktail” combination of drugs. Numerous studies have been done by both medical and legal professionals who have concluded that these chemicals are not the most humane available.  In fact, Dr. Jay Chapman, the former chief medical examiner who created the formula in 1977, has said, “It may be time to change it.  There are many problems that can arise…given the concerns that people are raising with the protocol it should be re-examined.”  [1]Last month several physicians published a study titled, “Lethal Injection for Execution: Chemical Asphyxiation?”  The majority of the doctors who wrote the article are from the University of Miami Medical School.  In their conclusion they wrote, “…our findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation.  If thiopental and potassium chloride fail to cause anesthesia and cardiac arrest, potentially aware inmates could have died through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation.  Thus the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.” [2] The doctors focused on what is believed to be a key problem: that inmates are given a uniform amount of anesthesia regardless of their body weight or other factors, such as their tolerance for barbiturates.  As I’m sure your father, a physician, will tell you, anesthesia must be carefully measured based upon a person’s size and weight.  However, the Florida protocol calls for an exact dosage no matter whether the prisoner is 5’ 6” and weighs 150 pounds or he is 6’2” and weighs 220 pounds.  Common sense will tell you that this is just a disaster waiting to happen.  Again.

The State of Florida and you as our Governor face a dilemma – how to kill a person using a quasi-medical procedure when medical personnel are ethically precluded from participating.  As you know, the American Medical Association has distanced itself from this process because of its code of ethics.The members of TCADP ask why the Department of Corrections would ignore the specific request by the Lethal Injection Commission to explore “more recently developed” chemicals for use in executions.  The DOC report states (p. 9) that the “…Department believes that the three substances used are appropriate for the lethal injection process.”  Governor Crist, it is evident from a review of the most current studies conducted by experts in this field that the Department of Corrections is wrong about this.  We have attached the medical journal article referred to in our letter and also an exhaustive study recently published by Deborah W. Denno, Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law.  Professor Denno is one of the nation’s leading experts on methods of execution. 

Please do not rush to begin executions again. The possibility for error is far too great.  We would like to reiterate that our organization is strongly opposed to capital punishment in any form.  We are confident that the “people’s Governor” will not want to be part of any process that involves a torturous death for one of Florida’s citizens. 


Sheila MeehanChair, TCADP

cc:  Secretary James McDonough, Dept. of Corrections   

     Patrick M. J. Hutton, M.D., President, Florida Medical Association

Cecil B. Wilson, M.D., Chair, American Medical Association

[1] “Lethal Injection creator: Maybe It’s time to change formula, Cohen, Elizabeth, CNN Health,

[2] “Lethal Injection for Execution: Chemical Asphyxiation?,” Zimmers, Teresa A., Sheldon, Jonathan, Lubarsky, David A., Lopez-Munoz, Francisco, Waterman, Linda, Weisman, Richard, Koniaris, Leonidas , PLoS Medicine, April 2007, Volume 4, Issue 4.         



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