Monday, October 1, 2012

Judge halts execution over drug questions

The State of California had its heart set on murdering Albert Greenwood Brown, Jr. last Thursday. Mr. Brown was on death row since 1982 for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl.

California set Thursday as the latest deadline to kill Mr. Brown because the state's supply of thiopental sodium was about to hit its expiration date. Oops. And with the drug in short supply, Humira (the drug maker) estimates it wouldn't be until the end of the first quarter of 2013 before a new batch would be available.

But last Tuesday, US District Judge Jeremy Fogel said not so fast. Judge Fogel told state officials that he didn't have enough time to review the procedures under which California planned to murder Mr. Brown. The concern was whether or not the three drug lethal cocktail amounted to cruel punishment.

The question is whether the thiopental sodium would render an inmate fully unconscious prior to the injection of the second and third drugs in the cocktail. The problem arises because there is no way to test whether or not the protocol works as advertised.

For those of y'all not familiar with the three drug protocol, the first drug (thiopental sodium) is an anesthetic that is supposed to put the inmate to sleep. The second drug causes paralysis and the third drug stops the heart. But what if the first drug doesn't do its job? Once the second drug kicks in there is no way to tell whether or not the inmate is fully unconscious. And, should he not be, he would suffer agonizing pain as his lungs stop working and his heart is stopped.

There is also a lack of personnel qualified to determine whether the thiopental sodium is working properly in the death house.

The solution for some states was to move to yet another untested protocol - the one drug cocktail as used in Texas. Instead of putting the inmate to sleep, paralyzing him and stopping his heart; the new method is to subject him to a lethal overdose of pentobarbital.

But the mode of execution is just window dressing. It doesn't matter whether you pump drugs into an inmate's arm or whether you send a massive jolt electricity through him. It doesn't matter whether you strap him down and drop cyanide into a bowl of gas or whether you sit him down in front of a firing squad. Murder is murder - no matter what you call it or how you do it.

No, the men who populate death row are not choirboys. They committed heinous acts and caused pain to countless families. But strapping them down and killing them doesn't solve anything. All it does is bring our society down to the level of savages.

It's time to stop it.

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