Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Federal judge halts Missouri execution (but SCOTUS gives the green light)

James Franklin killed a man and wounded two others outside a synagogue in Missouri in 1977. He was sentenced to die.

The State of Missouri is one of several states who have run into problems with their lethal injection protocols as a result of restrictions placed on the use of certain drugs by their manufacturers. Missouri had been using pentobarbital as part of its lethal drug cocktail until the maker of the drug stopped selling it to states for use in executing inmates.

Yesterday, just hours before Mr. Franklin was scheduled to die, US District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted his request for a stay based upon the lack of scientific evidence that the drugs the state intended to use would work properly.

Missouri is one of several states that have turned to compounding pharmacies to make the drugs used in executions in the absence of a market for such drugs. Judge Laughrey ruled that the state had failed to prove that the use of the drug obtained from the compounding pharmacy wouldn't cause undue pain to Mr. Franklin during the execution.

Yes, there is a certain amount of absurdity in the notion that an execution protocol is unconstitutional if it causes the inmate undue pain. But the fact that a federal judge granted a stay of execution to an alleged racist serial killer is a sign that at least on judge is concentrating on the process of killing an inmate and not the result.

Mr. Franklin isn't a kind person. He isn't the kind of person you want living next door. He has been convicted of a heinous crime. But, whether you want to think about it or not, he is a citizen of these United States and is entitled to the protections of the Eighth Amendment.

I applaud Judge Laughrey for her conviction in staying Mr. Franklin's execution. I commend her for deciding that the protections afforded us under the Constitution are more important that looking tough on crime.

Ultimately we are judged on how we treat the lowest members of our society. As reprehensible as Mr. Franklin is, he is a member of our society and he is entitled to a modicum of respect. The drugs that Missouri sought to use to kill Mr. Franklin were never tested by the government to ensure they did what they were supposed to to do. Mr. Franklin is, regardless of how you may feel about what he did, a human being - not a lab rat.

There is nothing sympathetic about Mr. Franklin's plight. There is no one who feels sorry for him. Judge Laughrey made an unpopular decision. But she made the right decision.

States who wish to murder their inmates are scrambling for ways to do it. Governors and legislators know that there isn't a constituency for convicted murderers. They know that a good number of folks couldn't care less about whether an inmate suffers in the final minutes of his life.

And that's why what Judge Nanette Laughrey did is so important.


Mr. Franklin was executed earlier this morning after the US Supreme Court lifted a stay and said it was perfectly acceptable for a state to use an inmate as a guinea pig. The nation's highest court apparently wasn't nearly as concerned with the process than they were with the outcome. Given the history of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, this shouldn't come as a surprise.

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