Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has ordered a review of the state’s execution procedures following the botched lethal injection that induced a prisoner’s fatal heart attack. The prisoner, Clayton Lockett, had initially won a stay for challenging the secrecy surrounding the untested execution drugs. But Fallin overruled Oklahoma’s Supreme Court last week and ordered the execution to proceed. On Wednesday, Fallin defended the death penalty and appointed a Cabinet member to conduct the review.
Gov. Mary Fallin: "I believe the death penalty is an appropriate response and punishment to those who commit heinous crimes against their fellow men and women. However, I also believe the state needs to be certain of its protocol and its procedures for executions and that they work."
Fallin has delayed all executions until the review has been completed. Oklahoma officials say Lockett suffered a vein failure, but critics say that claim could mark an effort to hide a problem with the untested chemicals. The botched execution has reinforced calls for abolishing the death penalty. The White House says it backs capital punishment but called Lockett’s death inhumane. In response, Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch said no execution can ever be carried out in a humane way.
Maria McFarland: "Last night’s events were just horrifying. The U.S. has been making progress in abolishing the death penalty in a number of states, yet it’s clear that some states are just so obsessed with carrying out this already inherently inhumane and irreversible punishment that they’re going to absurd and cruel lengths to carry it out."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich has commuted the death sentence of a convicted killer one month before his scheduled execution. Arthur Tyler has spent nearly three decades on death row for a 1983 murder. But prosecutors and a state parole board recommended clemency over evidence pointing to a co-defendant in the case. Like in Oklahoma, Ohio has faced problems with its lethal injection execution drugs. An execution in January lasted more than 30 minutes and saw the prisoner gasping for air.
Senate Republicans have blocked a measure that would have raised the federal minimum wage. Promoted heavily by President Obama, the bill would have brought the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years, up from the current rate of $7.25 an hour. It would have been the first such hike in five years. But in a nearly party line vote, Democrats fell eight votes shy of the 60 needed to avoid a filibuster. Speaking at the White House, President Obama denounced the Republican stance.
President Obama: "By preventing even a vote on this bill, they prevented a raise for 28 million hard-working Americans. They said no to helping millions work their way out of poverty. And keep in mind, this bill would have done so without any new taxes or spending or bureaucracy. They told Americans, like the ones who are here today, that you’re on your own — without even looking them in the eye."
The minimum wage did see one increase on Wednesday, in Hawaii. Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a $10.10 minimum wage into law following its approval by state lawmakers.
Dozens of people have died in the latest violence across Syria. On Wednesday, at least 18 people were killed when government forces bombed a school in the northern city of Aleppo. Activists say most of the victims were children. The bombing comes one day after more than 100 people died in car bombings in a government-controlled part of Homs. At the United Nations, Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said Syria’s violence is only getting worse.
Valerie Amos: "Far from getting better, the situation is getting worse. Violence has intensified over the past month, taking a horrific toll on ordinary Syrians. Each month, I report on the relentless killing and maiming of civilians; the destruction of homes, schools and places of worship; the blatant disregard for life; and the total disregard by all parties for the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law. The parties appear to be engaged in an endless spiral of targeting and harming civilians for tactical purposes."
In her comments, Amos said a two-month-old U.N. Security Council resolution to deliver aid to Syrians trapped in war zones has failed to change conditions on the ground. Western countries have floated a proposal to authorize aid deliveries without the Assad regime’s consent, but that is likely to draw a veto from Russia.
The United Nations’ top human rights official is warning the power struggle in South Sudan is tearing the country apart. Thousands have died and more than one million people have fled their homes since clashes erupted between government troops and supporters of the country’s sacked vice president late last year. On Wednesday, Navi Pillay said South Sudan is on the verge of catastrophe.
Navi Pillay: "The country’s leaders, instead of seizing their chance to steer their impoverished and war-battered young nation to stability and greater prosperity, have instead embarked on a personal power struggle that has brought their people to the verge of catastrophe."
The Ukraine government says it has lost control of the restive east as pro-Russian separatists continue to expand their reach. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, blamed what he called "inactivity, helplessness and even criminal betrayal" among Ukrainian forces in the east. The news comes as the International Monetary Fund has approved a $17 billion bailout for Ukraine. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde announced the two-year package.
Christine Lagarde: "Urgent action was necessary. Decisive measures were taken by Ukraine, and decisive measures have just been taken by the IMF. So there has been a very strong endorsement for the program, which will release, over the course of the next two years, $17.1 billion in different installments over the course of those two years."
Hundreds of people marched in Nigeria on Tuesday to press for a greater response to a mass kidnapping of young girls. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram is suspected of abducting about 230 schoolgirls during a night raid in a northeastern area two weeks ago. Some managed to escape, but more than 200 remain missing. Dubbed by organizers a "Million Woman March," the demonstrators carried signs reading "Bring Back Our Girls."
Halita Aliyu: "I personally believe that not enough is being done to rescue our daughters. Please recollect like two, three months ago, 25 girls were abducted from Konduga. Because the nation has not risen in unison to do something about those 25 girls abducted in Konduga, it is now possible to abduct another 200-plus. Next time, maybe it will be more. Each and every one of us needs to do something to arrest the unpleasant developments that are happening in the country, especially in the northeast."
A local human rights group is claiming the girls have been sold off, forced to marry their abductors, and taken across the border to Cameroon and Chad. The report has not been verified. The mass kidnapping is seen as one of the most shocking attacks in the Boko Haram’s five-year militant campaign, which has left thousands of people dead.
A train carrying crude oil has derailed in Virginia, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents and spilling into the James River. The company CSX says 15 tankers broke free of the train near Lynchburg, with at least three catching fire. The oil has spilled for hours into the James River, which is the capital Richmond’s main water supply. It was the second oil train accident for CSX this year and the sixth overall in North America since the derailment that killed 47 people in Quebec last July. Environmental groups have campaigned for a ban on oil train routes through the Richmond area. In a statement, the Sierra Club said: "In the wake of this, and other recent dirty fuel disasters, it’s clear that we must move as quickly as possible to safer, cleaner forms of energy like wind and solar. The safest place for dirty fuels is in the ground."
Two prisoners have died and more than 150 people have been injured in a gas explosion at a Florida jail. The blast at the Escambia County Jail caused the building’s partial collapse.
A new study says about one in 25 people sentenced to death in the United States is innocent. The National Academy of Sciences looked at data over three decades. According to the study, 340 people were wrongfully sentenced to die — more than double the number of death row prisoners exonerated over the same time period.
In Canada, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is taking a leave of absence after a new video emerged of him apparently smoking crack cocaine. A man claiming to be a drug dealer showed reporters footage he said was taken of Ford this past weekend. Ford is seen smoking from a metal pipe. The tape comes nearly a year after news first broke of an initial video of Ford smoking crack. Ford later admitted to drug use and other illegal behavior but has refused calls to step down. He’s now in the midst of a campaign for re-election. In a statement, Ford said he is taking a leave from campaigning to receive treatment for substance abuse. Ford said: "I know that I need professional help. I have struggled with this for some time." Another newly released tape captures Ford making homophobic remarks as well as lewd comments about one of his female opponents.