Thursday, April 17, 2014

Update: Another murder behind the Pine Curtain

The State of Texas murdered Jose Villegas last night. They strapped him down to a gurney, put an IV into his arm and pumped him full of what is supposed to be pentobarbital. Of course since the US Supreme Court decided that no one in Texas - outside of prison officials - has any right to know who produced the drug and whether it was what it was supposed to be, we don't know what was pumped into his veins.

We do know that something wasn't quite up to snuff because Mr. Villegas complained of a burning sensation as the death drug took its toll.

The murder of Mr. Villegas was put on hold for almost an hour as the Supreme Court considered an appeal from Mr. Villegas' attorneys arguing that to allow the execution would be to allow the state to take the life of a mentally retarded man. An IQ test taken this past February indicated that Mr. Villegas' IQ was 59 - well below 70, generally recognized as the indicator of mental retardation.

Texas officials argued that Mr. Villegas' attorneys had plenty of time to raise the issue of mental retardation before filing a last-minute appeal based on the February test.

Of course if he's retarded then he's retarded - whether a test was taken 10 years ago or last week. And, if the Nine in Robes have proclaimed that we shalt not execute a mentally retarded person, then Mr. Villegas shouldn't have been strapped down and murdered.

Yes, his crimes were heinous. He killed an ex-girlfriend, her child and her mother. But killing him didn't bring any of them back. Killing him didn't fill the hole that was left in the hearts of the victims' family and friends. Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka proclaimed that justice was done - after complaining that the murder of Mr. Villegas seemed so clinical.

What a funny concept of justice Mr. Skurka has. How does the murder of a person equate to justice? Revenge maybe, but certainly not justice. And ultimately that's what the execution of Mr. Villegas was all about - an exercise in public revenge. This is the point to which our society has evolved after thousands of years - we still consider revenge to be a perfectly acceptable goal in our criminal (in)justice system.

While doing some research on Mr. Villegas earlier this week I ran across a blog post from Laura Dimon that paints a chilling picture of the process of execution. I believe most of the material in her piece came from a radio documentary that first ran back in 2000. The documentary, Witness to an Execution, features interviews with prison officials and guards in Texas who facilitate executions.

Jeffrey Toobin expressed his opinion on state-sponsored murder when he stated that no matter how "humane" you try to make the process, you can never erase the fact that you're strapping a person to a table in order to kill him.

From Ms. Dimon's post:
Similarly, Toobin calls the search for humane execution "oxymoronic." He wrote, "It’s understandable that Supreme Court Justices have tried to make the process a little more palatable; and there is a meagre kind of progress in moving from the chair to the gurney. But the essential fact about both is that they come with leather straps to restrain a human being so that the state can kill him. No technology can render that process any less grotesque."
And so, when Mr. Skurka wants to complain that the process is too humane he's missing the point entirely. But sometimes knuckle-draggers can't quite grasp those higher levels of thought. Murder is murder - it doesn't matter who's doing it. It doesn't matter how they do it.

Deliberately taking the life of another is murder. And regardless of how you want to disguise the issue, everyone who participates in the execution of an inmate is an accessory to murder.

I leave you with this excerpt from Ms. Dimon's post:
One warden said, "You'll never hear another sound like a mother wailing when she is watching her son be executed. There's no other sound like it. It is just this horrendous wail. It's definitely something you won't ever forget."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Assuming that the entire preparation of pentobarbital was not consumed, could the drug that remains AFTER the execution be tested for efficacy or for identification purposes? If the public is not allowed to know where the drug came from, at the very least the public should know that the drug pentobarbital was used (and at proper protocol concentrations, no less).