The death penalty
Developments during 2014:
2014-MAR-27: Delaware: State may be about to abolish the death penalty:
The bill to abolish the death penalty was passed by the Senate during 2014-MAR but has been stuck in the House Judiciary Committee since 2013-APR-30. 1
Abraham J. Bonowitz, the Delaware State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator and a guest writer for Amnesty International wrote the following appeal for support:
"Delaware’s death penalty system is arbitrary and biased. It contributes to a cycle of violence and does not make the state any safer. The death penalty is unfair, expensive and tainted with human error.
Why am I so sure we need to act now? In the United States, 144 people have been exonerated from death row. That means that 144 people were arrested, wrongfully convicted, and sentenced to death. Others were executed before having a chance to prove their innocence. The truth is that humans make mistakes – and in the case of the death penalty, the stakes are too high to allow for any chance of error.
We can do this, but only with your help. This is our moment. Help end the death penalty in Delaware. Take action now! With such overwhelming support from across Delaware, it’s time Senate Bill 19 finally gets the vote it deserves. Don’t wait – this is the time to make your voice heard. Together, we can play a part in ending Delaware’s death penalty for good." 2
2014-JUL-16: California: District Court declares death penalty legislation unconstitutional:
Ernest Dewayne Jones has been on California's Death Row in San Quentin State Prison for almost two decades, awaiting execution for having been convicted of raping and murdering his girlfriend's mother. He filed a lawsuit to have his sentence reviewed.
U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that California's death penalty system is dysfunctional. Delays have created a situation in which:
"... the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death. ... allowing this system to continue to threaten Mr. Jones with the slight possibility of death, almost a generation after he was first sentenced, violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment." 3
Natasha Minsker, Director of the American Civil Liberties Association of Northern California, stated that the court ruling was:
"... the first time any judge has ruled systemic delay creates an arbitrary system that serves no legitimate purpose and is therefore unconstitutional."
Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, noted that Judge Carney's ruling is based on the belief that:
"... the death penalty lacks a penological basis after such a long delay. But the retribution interest, at least, is still there. The defendant still deserves this punishment for the very worst murders, and society has a valid interest in carrying it out, no matter how long it takes."
Kamala D. Harris, California's Attorney General, is considering whether to appeal the court decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. 3
2013-JUL-16: Current status of the death penalty in the U.S.:
The most recent state to abolish capital punishment was Maryland during 2013-MAY. That leaves capital punishment legal in 32 states and terminated in 18 states and the District of Columbia. 3
2014-JUL-23: Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona: Executions of inmates that did not go according to plan:
The supply of drugs that have been generally used in the past to execute people in the U.S.
has been drying up. Their only source is in Europe, and suppliers are refusing to sell them if they are to be used to execute people. Some states are trying alternate drugs and are experiencing difficulties.
2014-JAN-16, in Ohio: Dennis McGuire, an inmate on death row, took 26 minutes to die, during which time he snorted and gasped. Jon Paul Rion, a lawyer for the inmate's children, commented:
"All citizens have a right to expect that they will not be treated or punished in a cruel and unusual way. Today's actions violated that constitutional expectation."
Allen Bohnert, McGuire's lawyer, referred to the execution as:
"... a failed, agonizing experiment. ... The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names." 4
2014-APR-29, in Oklahoma: The execution of Clayton Lockett, an inmate on death row, began at 6:23 PM. Drugs were first administered to cause unconsciousness. The doctor declared him unconscious after ten minutes. But three minutes later, he began to breathe heavily, to writhe on the gurney, and to speak. David Autry, Lockett's attorney, said:
"It was a horrible thing to witness. This was totally botched."
Robert Patton, director of the Department of Corrections, after making some phone calls. decided to halt the execution. However, at 7:06 PM, Lockett died of a massive heart attack.
Governor Mary Fallin ordered a stay of execution for a second inmate who was also scheduled to die that night. She said:
"I have asked the Department of Corrections to conduct a full review of Oklahoma's execution procedures to determine what happened and why, during this evening's execution." 5
2014-JUL-23, In Arizona: The execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood started at 1:52 PM. However, he apparently did not lose consciousness quickly, as expected. He gasped more than 600 times and snorted for one hour and 57 minutes before he finally went silent and was pronounced dead. During the process, his lawyers made an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court asking that the execution be halted. Justice Anthony Kennedy responded by denying the appeal about a half hour after Wood had died.
Observing the execution were family members of the victims. They had no problems with the execution. Richard Brown said:
"This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, 'let's worry about the drugs.' Why didn't they give him a bullet, why didn't we give him Drano?" 6
I find these time-consuming executions difficult to understand. Surely, on a daily basis, thousands or tens of thousands of patients in North America are given a general anesthetic to render them unconscious before surgery. Why cannot prison guards be given the minimal training to use these same medications to render prisoners unconscious? As soon as they are in that state, any technique could then be used to actually kill the inmate. An even simpler execution technique would be to cause hypoxia -- deprive the body of oxygen. A mixture of two gasses, Argon and Nitrogen, applied by a mask, would send the inmate into an euphoric state, quickly render them unconscious, and cause death.
A number of recent executions that are supposed to be quick and painless, have turned out to be slow, agonizing processes. Some commentators are suggesting that these violate the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's prohibition of "cruel and unusual punishment." Some are suggesting a moratorium of new executions.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Death penalty repeal supporters mobilizing," Delaware NewsZap, 2014-FEB-18, at: http://delaware.newszap.com/
- Abraham J. Bonowitz, "ACT NOW: End the Death Penalty in Delaware," Amnesty International, 2014-MAR-27, at: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/us/act-now-end-the-death-penalty-in-delaware/
"Death penalty in California ruled unconstitutional by federal judge," Pro Con, 2014-JUL-17, at: http://www.procon.org/
"Ohio killer's kin to sue over drugs used to execute him," CBS News, 2014-JAN-17, at: http://www.cbsnews.com/
"Oklahoma inmate dies of heart attack after botched execution,"CBS News, 2014-APR-29, at: http://www.cbsnews.com/
"Arizona inmate dies 2 hours after execution begins," CBS News, 2014-JUL-23, at:http://www.cbsnews.com/
Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2014-MAR
Last updated: 2014-JUL-24
Author: B.A. Robinson