Thursday, January 30, 2014

NYTimes calls for end to 'barbaric, racist' death penalty

The death penalty is "barbaric, racist and arbitrary in its application," The New York Times Editorial Board said yesterday as it lamented the January 29 execution of Herbert Smulls in Missouri. Unlike Dennis McGuire's January 16 execution in Ohio, Smull's did not last 26 minutes--it was reportedly "brief." Still, The Times concludes that it's time to abandon the death penalty. It writes:

In the end, the argument over what is the most “humane” way to kill someone only obscures the larger point, which is that, in the 21st century, the United States has no business putting people to death by any means. Public support for capital punishment has reached a 40-year low, and virtually all other Western societies have rejected it. It will end here, too, but not until this despicable practice is dragged out into the open for all to see.

28007169_devlin_lethal_injectionIn both Missouri and Ohio, the states used drug cocktails prepared by compounding pharmacies, which has become common since the original drug--sodium thiopental--is no longer available. However, some states will not disclose the names of the pharmacies from which the cocktails come, a move The Times decries as "cowardly." It explains:

The increased secrecy around lethal-injection drug protocols is only the latest tactic of pro-death-penalty legislators and corrections officials around the country. In Missouri, this secrecy was upheld last week by a federal appeals court, which denied a condemned inmate’s constitutional claim that he is entitled to basic information about the drugs that would be used to put him to death.


Herbert Smulls was executed late Wednesday for the 1991 murder of a jewelry-store owner. Missouri refused to name the pharmacy or pharmacies involved in producing the execution drugs.


Missouri’s secrecy, along with new legislation in states such as Georgia and Tennessee, is a response to a mounting “crisis” in death-penalty states: Because many drug manufacturers now refuse to supply drugs for use in executions, states are scrambling to replenish their stocks. This often means turning to compounding pharmacies, which exist in a largely unregulated world.

Additionally, The Guardian reports today that the result of its recent survey of Texas's executions over the last three years demonstrates that new procedures are taking longer to kill the condemned--indeed lasting as long 30 minutes. It states:

US death penalty states face a deepening crisis in their struggle to procure medical drugs for use in lethal injections, with new evidence that the increasingly random methods being used are subjecting condemned prisoners to prolonged and possibly excruciating deaths.


A Guardian survey of death sentences carried out over the past three years by Texas – the most prolific of all execution states – has found that the procedure now takes on average twice as long as under previous protocols. A study of Texas department of criminal justice records and eyewitness media reports mainly from the Associated Press shows a notable lengthening of the death process following the switch in July 2012 from the conventional three-drug cocktail to a single drug, pentobarbital.


Ten executions prior to the change took on average 10 minutes to complete, ranging from nine to 11 minutes between the administration of the lethal injection and the declaration of death.


The next 23 executions using only pentobarbital took on average 20 minutes, with the full range between 12 to 30 minutes.

Earlier this week, Louisiana announced it will use the combination drug used in McGuire's execution in Ohio, which one witness described as "ghastly,"--"[h]is gasps could be heard through the glass wall that separated us." McGuire's family now plans to sue the state for alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishment."

Thirty-two states still use the death penatly

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