Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Court stays Missouri execution

The State of Missouri was just bound and determined to jab a needle into Russell Bucklew's arm and poison him. It didn't matter to them that Mr. Bucklew was saddled with a medical condition that left him with weak veins and blockages in his air passages.

So what if the state hadn't taken care of its business and assessed the ways in which the drugs used in the Missouri protocol would interact with Mr. Bucklew's medical condition? He was a convicted murderer who showed no sympathy for the people he killed. Did it really matter if suffered during his execution? Didn't his victims suffer, too?

But then again, the death penalty isn't supposed to be about revenge. It's a punishment that is reserved for those that we, as a society, have decided just can't live among us - either out in the world or behind bars. Of course we could talk forever about the lunacy of jurors (in Texas) or judges (in other states) deciding who is, and who isn't, worthy of life.

Mr. Bucklew's attorneys sought a stay in state court yesterday. The reaction was stark and, unfortunately, predictable. State courts refused to grant the stay. The judges didn't care that the state never contested the medical evidence. The judges didn't care that no one had tried to figure out what unintended consequences the death drugs would have due to Mr. Bucklew's medical condition. The judges didn't care if the state violated the Eighth Amendment by exposing a condemned man to unnecessary pain and suffering. They just wanted to have a body to show for it.

That whole finality thing again.

Except nothing's ever final. There is no circle of life. You can kill Russell Bucklew but it won't matter. The people he killed are still dead. Their friends and family are still grieving. And someone else will kill again because the death penalty isn't a deterrent to anything.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Kansas City wasn't going to be swayed by politics. They looked at the situation. They looked at Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. They looked at the Missouri protocol.

And they didn't like what they saw. Maybe it was because of the botched execution in Oklahoma. Maybe the way in which Oklahoma went about killing Clayton Lockett has finally woken folks up to just what it means for the state to kill someone. Maybe that fiasco is the straw that breaks the back of the executioner.

Judges like things to be nice and neat. They don't want loose ends. What happened in Oklahoma was one hell of a loose end. It may turn out to be the wedge that pushes us toward abolition.

That botched execution has forced judges to actually think about what is happening on that gurney behind the blinds. It's no longer an abstraction. It's no longer a study in dry logic. When a man is strapped down to a gurney and the death drugs are injected into him - he dies.

Mr. Bucklew didn't die in the early hours of the morning because someone finally realized that. Of course you can bet the folks in Missouri are going to do everything they can to strap him down and kill him - regardless of how cruel or barbaric that might be.


After a panel of the 8th Circuit granted the stay, the entire court sat down and said "What the hell?" and decided to let Missouri go ahead with the execution. Then US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito signed an order putting the execution back on hold. The entire court is expected to hear the case and issue a final ruling.

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