Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Death three ways

Yesterday was supposed to be a double-header day in Oklahoma. Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner were both scheduled to be murdered by the state. Only things didn't go the way officials had hoped. As a result, Mr. Warner is still alive while Mr. Lockett is dead.

Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner had challenged the legality of their scheduled executions by filing suit to force the state to disclose the drugs it planned on using to kill them as well as the source of the drugs and the names of everyone involved in the execution.

The state disclosed the drugs it planned to use but refused to give up any information regarding the source of the drugs, citing a state secrecy law. The Oklahoma Supreme Court wasn't amused and issued stays while it considered the claims of Mr. Lockett and Mr. Warner. Last week the court lifted the stays having found that the state's secrecy law was valid.

But a bigger controversy erupted on Tuesday afternoon when the state botched Mr. Lockett's execution. The first drug in the cocktail was the sedative midazolam. The drug is supposed to leave an inmate in a state of unconsciousness. But, seven minutes after the initial injection, Mr. Lockett was still conscious. Reporters noted that Mr. Lockett was still very much alive after more than 15 minutes, even lifting his head as officials drew the blinds to prevent witnesses from seeing the complete custerfluck taking place in the execution chamber.

The execution continued with the second and third drugs being administered, but Mr. Lockett wouldn't die. It turns out that the vein into which the lethal drugs were being injected burst. Officials immediately called off the second scheduled execution as they tried to deal with the mess on their hands.

Then, 43 minutes after receiving the initial injection, Mr. Lockett suffered a fatal heart attack.

Meanwhile in Ohio. state officials announced that they will be upping the amount of drugs in the state's lethal cocktail to prevent another episode like what happened in January when an inmate remained conscious for at least 15 minutes after the first drug was injected.

Despite claims from witnesses that Dennis McGuire was visibly gasping for air long after he should have been rendered unconscious, state officials continue to insist that Mr. McGuire was unconscious and suffered no pain during the process.

Apparently doctors determined this by asking Mr. McGuire if he had suffered any pain after he was already dead. Hearing no response they naturally assumed the answer was "no."

The state has announced that for the next scheduled execution, to take place in November, they will up the dosage of midazolam from 10 mg to 50 mg and the dosage of hydromorphone from 40 mg to 50 mg. So far there is no word on who is supplying the drugs or who made the determination that upping the dosage would solve the problems encountered during Mr. McGuire's execution.

The fact remains that something went dreadfully wrong in January, otherwise the state would not be making the announcement it made this week. If everything went according to schedule in January, there would be no need to tinker with the lethal cocktail for upcoming executions.

Finally, government officials in Washington are expressing outrage over the mass death sentences handed out by an Egyptian court in a trial in which hundreds of members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were convicted of being complicit in the death of a police officer during a protest back in 2013.

The Egyptian court sentenced 683 defendants to death - only 50 of whom were in custody at the time of trial. The remaining defendants can challenge their death sentences once they've turned themselves in.

The trial only took a matter of hours and the defendants in custody were prevented from presenting a defense to the charges. The death sentences will now be reviewed by the state's highest Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti.

I would like to know exactly what about the death sentences has so outraged American leaders. It certainly can't be that anyone was sentenced to death. I mean we do that all the time here and no one in Washington expresses anything that could be remotely considered to be outrage.

I suppose that some of the outrage could be over the apparent lack of due process at trial. But such feelings ignore the reality that innocent people are convicted of crimes, including capital murder, in the U.S. and are sentenced to death. Anthony Graves was wrongly convicted of murder in Texas thanks in large measure to prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. Graves was sentenced to die and sent to death row. He was, theoretically, provided greater due process than the defendants in Egypt - but the result was the same.

To date there have been 144 men and women on death row who have been exonerated. There has also been at least one innocent man executed in Texas. The numbers belie the truth that our criminal (in)justice system isn't all that better than the criminal (in)justice systems in other countries. We like to pat ourselves on the back and tell juries that they are the true engines of democracy -- but that is largely a myth. Juries get it wrong all the time.

Even worse is the absolute lack of due process that was afforded to four American citizens who were murdered by our government in drone strikes. None of the four was ever charged or indicted. None of the four got to confront the witness against them nor question the evidence presented. None of the four was represented by counsel when senior government officials made the decision to hit the fire button on the drone. And then let us not forget the number of innocent men, women and children who were blown to pieces by missiles fired from the skies during drone attacks.

That leaves only the sheer number of death sentences handed out at once to be the cause of the outrage. But if we support the death penalty here at home, then what difference should it make if some other country wants to hand out death sentences like invitations to a house party?

Murder is murder is murder. It doesn't matter whether it's committed by a masked gunman in a gas station or by the state in an antiseptic execution chamber. If it's wrong for an Egyptian court to sentence hundreds of defendants to death in one fell swoop, then it's also wrong for a jury in Texas to recommend the death sentence in a capital murder case.

Don't get hung up on the numbers because the numbers aren't important. One death sentence is one death sentence too many. One exoneree is one exoneree too many.

1 comment:

Lee said...

I feared this would happen with state secrets...I did not expect the state to succeed with blind trust. Like I said last time, we have no clue what these inmates are being injected with (though my guess is they were experimenting with some ninja turtle mutagen).