×
August 10, 2018

On Thursday night, Tennessee executed Billy Ray Irick, 59, for the 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer. He's the first death row inmate Tennessee executed since 2009 and the state's first one using a controversial lethal cocktail containing midazolam, a drug aimed at stopping pain before the inmate is injected with the paralytic drug vecuronium bromide and finally compounded potassium chloride, the lethal drug.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay of execution, with Justice Elena Kagan's signature and Justice Sonia Sotomayor's scathing dissent. "Although the midazolam may temporarily render Irick unconscious, the onset of pain and suffocation will rouse him ... just as the paralysis sets in, too late for him to alert bystanders that his execution has gone horribly (if predictably) wrong," Sotomayor wrote. "In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody." Previously, the Supreme Court has compared potassium chloride to "chemically burning at the stake."

States have turned to midazolam in recent years as supplies of other lethal-injection drugs have dried up, in large part because drugmakers are refusing to sell states products to kill people. Midazolam has failed several times, and when Tennessee administered the drugs to Irick, The Tennessean reports, "he was coughing, choking, and gasping for air. His face turned dark purple as the lethal drugs took over." Another concern in the case is that Irick was mentally ill, according to Robert Durham at the Death Penalty Information Center. Tennessee is considering a bill barring the execution of people with serious mental illnesses, Durham said, and "it's unseemly that Irick would be executed and then the case ultimately gets resolved in his favor." Tennessee has two more executions scheduled this year. Peter Weber

9:51 p.m.

In a bipartisan vote, the Senate on Tuesday passed the First Step Act, the biggest overhaul of the federal criminal justice system in decades.

The bill passed with a vote of 87-12, and was backed by conservative and liberal groups. Lawmakers spent more than a year negotiating the bill, which creates more rehabilitation programs, eases mandatory minimum sentencing, reduces the three-strike penalty from life in prison to 25 years, and lets some federal inmates earn time credits by taking part in special programs.

Now, the bill moves to the House, where it also has bipartisan support. After the Senate passed the measure, President Trump tweeted that he looks "forward to signing this into law!" Catherine Garcia

9:08 p.m.

Over the course of a decade, the late George H.W. Bush sponsored a boy living in the Philippines, who had no idea that the money, letters, and gifts coming to him from the United States were being sent by a former president.

Bush learned about Compassion International, a nonprofit that connects sponsors with children from poor communities, in 2001, the organization's former president, Wess Stafford, told CNN on Tuesday. His security team did some digging, and after vetting Compassion International, agreed that Bush could sponsor 7-year-old Timothy. There were some rules, though; he had to use a pseudonym, to protect Timothy from someone who might target him due to his link to Bush.

For 10 years, Bush sent letters — signed "George Walker" — and funds that paid for Timothy's education, activities, and food. Stafford screened Bush's letters, describing them to CNN as being "the most sweet, spirited letters I have read from any sponsor, but he kept giving hints as to who he could be. He was really pushing the envelope." Bush sent photos of his dog, Sadie, and told Timothy that he was invited to the White House for Christmas. Timothy drew pictures for Bush, who in turn sent him sketch pads, colored pencils, and paint, even though gifts were not allowed.

Timothy didn't find out who his sponsor was until he turned 17 and graduated. He was stunned, Stafford said, never having a clue that his pen pal and benefactor was once the president of the United States of America. Catherine Garcia

8:11 p.m.

A panel of eight federal judges on Tuesday dismissed 83 complaints filed against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by "lawyers, doctors, professors, and concerned citizens, among others."

The complaints lodged against him stem from his heated Senate confirmation hearings, accusing Kavanaugh of misconduct and making disrespectful statements to senators, Reuters reports. The panel threw out the complaints because the federal law governing judicial conduct does not apply to Supreme Court justices, only lower court judges.

Kavanaugh was a federal appeals court judge when President Trump announced in July he was nominating him for the Supreme Court. Before he was confirmed in October, Kavanaugh was accused by several women of sexual misconduct, allegations that he denied. Catherine Garcia

7:00 p.m.

The U.S. State Department granted a visa on Tuesday to a Yemeni mother fighting to see her dying two-year-old son at a hospital in San Francisco.

Shaima Swileh's son, Abdullah, has a genetic brain disorder. Her husband, Ali Hassan, is a U.S. citizen, and he brought Abdullah to California in the fall for treatment. As a Yemeni citizen, Swileh was not able to get a visa under the Trump administration's travel ban, and was not allowed to travel to the U.S. with her family. They filed for a waiver, but Abdullah's health began to worsen, and he was put on life support last week.

Hassan wanted his wife to be able to kiss their son one final time, but also didn't want the toddler to suffer, and had given up hope that the waiver would come through. A social worker at the hospital contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Sacramento, and their lawyers sued this week. "This will allow us to mourn with dignity," Hassan said in a statement. Swileh will fly to San Francisco on Wednesday.

Waivers are granted on a case by case basis, with applicants having to prove they are not security threats and that their entry is in the national interest. "We hope this case makes the administration realize the waiver process is not working," Basim Elkarra of CAIR told The Associated Press. "Thousands of families have been split apart, including families who have loved ones who are ill and are not able to see them in their final hours. I'm sure there are more cases like this." Catherine Garcia

5:27 p.m.

No one could find evidence of the middle-class tax cut plan President Trump kept promising before November's midterms. Now, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin won't even confirm it ever existed.

In a Tuesday interview, Mnuchin told Bloomberg the administration's top priority for next year is fixing 2017's tax overhaul. And as for the mysterious tax cut, well, Mnuchin said he was "not going to comment on whether it is a real thing or not a real thing."

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed last December and lauded in a documentary series from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) released Tuesday. But its final form largely neglected promised tax cuts for the middle class, instead largely benefiting high-income Americans while raising the federal deficit by an projected $1.4 trillion in 10 years. Mnuchin didn't mention those issues when talking to Bloomberg, but said the administration will issue "some minor technical corrections" in early 2019.

Flash forward to October, just weeks before the midterms, and Trump again starts mentioning "a major tax cut for middle-income people." Mnuchin also affirmed he and House Republicans were working on a new tax plan to be released "shortly," Bloomberg says. Republicans, meanwhile, didn't know what Trump and Mnuchin were talking about.

When Bloomberg asked about that October hint on Tuesday, Mnuchin simply said "we have other things we're focused on." Which seems to be a fancy way of saying it's very, very far on the back burner. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:43 p.m.

Even Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-Ohio) barber thinks he's running.

The Ohio senator is known for easily hanging onto his Senate seat despite his state going nearly all red in the most recent midterm elections. He's also known for his uncombed curls, recently trimmed short by Ohio barber Carlo Sarti, Cleveland.com reports.

After the Democrat secured an easy victory in a now-red state last month, some suggested he'd be the ideal choice to take on President Trump in 2020. Brown seemed to hear them, and revealed he was "seriously" considering a run just days after the midterms. Brown soon debuted a shorter, less messy hairstyle, leading some — including Sarti — to say he looks like he's leaning toward a run.

Not necessarily, Brown's wife Connie Schultz soon said. Brown was just too busy for weekly haircuts, so he had Sarti cut it shorter, the Pulitzer-winning journalist tweeted. Sarti, though, told Cleveland.com that Brown "looks more like a candidate for president" after the trim. He also has a sense of Brown's bipartisan popularity: Sarti doesn't talk politics with customers, but "most of 'em" like Brown, he said. And regardless of how customers feel politically, they're excited when they see Brown in the shop, Sarti added.

Brown still hasn't confirmed if he'll seek the Democratic nomination, but rest assured, his haircuts at Carlo's cost far less than $400. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:27 p.m.

Saturn's iconic rings will one day be no more. The ring formation around the sixth planet from the sun is experiencing "ring drain," says James O'Donoghue of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The planet's magnetic field is causing the rings to be pulled inward by gravity, creating a dusty rain of ice particles. Every half hour, enough water is drained from the rings to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, O'Donoghue said in a NASA press release.

This revelation, along with information from Cassini spacecraft research, led scientists to estimate that the rings will cease to exist in fewer than 100 million years — a short time relative to Saturn's 4-billion-year existence, O'Donoghue says.

Saturn's rings are made of chunks of water ice varying in size — some are microscopic while others are several yards wide. The particles are balanced between Saturn's gravity and their orbital velocity, creating rings, per NASA.

But scientists aren't sure whether Saturn has always had rings. New research supports the idea that they formed later in the planet's existence and are unlikely to be more than 100 million years old. If this is the case, the rings may have formed when the gravitational pull from a comet or asteroid caused small, icy moons that were orbiting the planet to collide, says NASA.

O'Donoghue notes that humans are lucky to be around during the lifetime of Saturn's ring system, but that, if rings are temporary, we may have missed out on seeing the beauty of ring formations around Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, too. Taylor Watson

See More Speed Reads