Judge extends block on capital punishment

A freeze on capital punishment in Ohio will continue into 2015
after a federal judge extended a months-long moratorium on executions as questions mount about the effectiveness of a new, two-drug combination being used to carry out the death penalty.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost delays executions set for September, October, November and January and highlights the ongoing problem faced by states in obtaining drugs to put inmates to death. It may also give Ohio more time to find sources for its preferred method — a single dose of compounded pentobarbital — which has been used without incident several times in Missouri and Texas.

The Ohio moratorium had been scheduled to expire this week, but the order that Frost issued Friday extends it through Jan. 15. At issue is the state’s latest death penalty policy change, which was announced in late April and increases the amount of the sedative and painkiller Ohio uses.

Last January, unable to obtain supplies of compounded pentobarbital, Ohio switched to its backup method of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. Condemned killer Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped during the record 26 minutes it took him to die on Jan. 16.

On April 29 in Oklahoma, an inmate died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after his execution began with a three-drug method that starts with midazolam. Officials pointed to improper insertion of the needle delivering the drugs. On July 23, an inmate took nearly two hours to die in Arizona, which also uses midazolam and hydromorphone.

— Associated Press

State legislature approves new maps, alters districts

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature on Monday swiftly approved new maps that will alter several of the state’s congressional districts after a judge ruled that the current districts were illegally drawn to benefit the GOP.

The changes would alter seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts, but it is uncertain whether the revised map will change the makeup of Florida’s congressional delegation. Republicans currently hold a 17-to-10 edge.

The vote was largely along partisan lines as Democrats complained that the new map still does not reflect that Florida is a battleground state with a divided electorate. The Senate passed the measure 25 to 12 with the House following by a 71-to-38 vote.

Legislators held a three-day special session to fix the congressional map after Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that two districts were drawn illegally. Lewis gave legislators until Aug. 15 to draw a new map.

Even with new districts in place, it is unclear clear when they will be implemented. Lewis must decide whether to call a special election for this year. Legislative leaders have said they plan to oppose any effort to call one.

— Associated Press

Six killed in crash during police chase: A teenager, his parents and uncle were among six people killed when a speeding vehicle pursued by police slammed into their car outside Houston, killing both drivers and their passengers, police said. The Sunday night incident near Dickinson, southeast of Houston, started when police tried to pull over a Dodge Durango that was swerving and driving without headlights. The driver sped up to about 100 mph when the officer activated his emergency lights, police said. The driver of the SUV had an outstanding felony warrant for driving while intoxicated, police said.

— Reuters