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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

43 Minute Botched Execution Is "Cruel, Unusual"




The death penalty -- controversial ground to say the least. At this time, thirty-two U.S. states have the death penalty, as does the U.S. government and the U.S. military. No matter what your belief in capital punishment, when you read reports like the following, you realize the potential barbarity of execution. Part of the newest problem with quick, efficient executions? States that have capital punishment have been forced to find new drugs to use since European-based manufacturers banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions.

This is the case in Oklahoma. It used a three-drug cocktail for execution Tuesday, April 29, 2014. The three drugs administered were as follows:

1. Midazolam, a drug generally used for children before medical procedures or before anesthesia for surgery to cause drowsiness, relieve anxiety, and prevent any memory of the event. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the drug may cause serious or life-threatening breathing problems, so a child should only receive it "in a hospital or doctor's office that has the equipment that is needed to monitor his or her heart and lungs and to provide life-saving medical treatment quickly if his or her breathing slows or stops."

2. Vecuronium bromide, a drug used to stop respiration, and

3. Potassium chloride, a drug used to stop the heart.

To administer the drugs, two intravenous lines were inserted, one in each arm of the convict. The drugs were then injected by hand-held syringes simultaneously into the two intravenous lines. The sequence of administrations was in the order that the drugs are listed above. Three executioners were utilized, with each one injecting one of the drugs."

The execution on Tuesday was the first time Oklahoma used midazolam as the first element in its three-drug cocktail. 



The Death of Clayton Lockett

Read this brief summary of the botched execution in Oklahoma. This is the gruesome story of the death of Clayton Lockett, who was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery.

"Lockett lived for 43 minutes Tuesday after being administered the first drug in a cocktail that was meant to kill him, CNN affiliate KFOR reported. He convulsed and writhed on the gurney. Managing to raise his head, he got out the words 'Man,' 'I'm not,' and 'something's wrong,' reporter Courtney Francisco of KFOR said. Then the blinds were closed, and witnesses could not see what took place after that.
 

"Other reporters, including Cary Aspinwall of the Tulsa World newspaper, also said Lockett was still alive and lifted his head while prison officials lowered the blinds so onlookers couldn't see what was going on.

"Dean Sanderford, Lockett's attorney, said his client's body 'started to twitch,' and then 'the convulsing got worse. It looked like his whole upper body was trying to lift off the gurney. For a minute, there was chaos.'

"Sanderford said guards ordered him out of the witness area, and he was never told what had happened to Lockett.


"After administering the first of three drugs, 'We began pushing the second and third drugs in the protocol,' said Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton. 'There was some concern at that time that the drugs were not having the effect. So the doctor observed the line and determined that the line had blown.' He added that Lockett's vein had 'exploded.'

"After the ordeal, Patton told reporters that Lockett was sedated and then given the second and third drugs in the protocol. He died of a heart attack, Patton added.

"The office of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statement saying that 'execution officials said Lockett remained unconscious after the lethal injection drugs were administered.'


"The state halted the execution of another inmate, Charles Warner, which was scheduled for later in the day. 'I notified the attorney general's office, the governor's office of my intent to stop the execution and requested a stay for 14 days,' said Patton."


 (Ed Payne, Josh Levs, and Greg Botelho. "Oklahoma's botched lethal injection starts new front in battle over executions." CNN. April 30, 2014)

The Eighth Amendment states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." As far back as 1787, the Supreme Court commented that drawing and quartering, public dissection, burning alive, or disembowelment constituted cruel and unusual punishment."




Criteria For Execution

In 1972, Furman v. Georgia, Justice Brennan wrote, "There are, then, four principles by which we (The Supreme Court) may determine whether a particular punishment is 'cruel and unusual.'" One of these principles stated that the "essential predicate" is "that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity," especially torture.

The most common method for execution since 1976 has been lethal injection. Some states also allow electrocution, firing squad, hanging, and lethal gas. 

In 2008, Michael Portillo on the show Horizon determined that in ensuring an execution is not of a cruel and unusual nature, the following criteria must be met:
  • Death should be quick and painless death to prevent suffering for the person being executed.
  • Medical education should be provided to the executioner to prevent suffering caused by error.
  • The death should not be gory (to prevent suffering for those carrying out the execution).
  • No co-operation should be required from the person being executed, to prevent inaction, distress, and/or suffering caused by the prisoner being required to participate in his own execution.
It is evident the three-drug cocktail used to execute Clayton Lockett this week was "cruel and unusual." It amazes me how an untried method of execution can be administered without better research as to the drugs' immediate effects and their ability to inflict torturous death. I mean, even if we have to get the animal rights advocates fired up, I believe we must test these methods on monkeys or other animals before we inject them into human to exact execution.

Many even say a better method exists. To some scientists, Hypoxia appears to meet the criteria, by way of applying a combination of the gases Argon and Nitrogen, as the person being executed would not feel any physical pain but would experience a euphoric state. It was further determined that these gases could be applied cheaply and efficiently by restraining the prisoner by way of physical restraints and mask.

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/tx/executions/lethal_injection/)

I guess even an efficient firing squad would quicken the death and reduce the pain and suffering of an inmate. Of course, the image of bullets, blood, and gore make this graphic form of execution appear to be more "cruel and unusual" to many.

I, for one, will never forget the reports of the execution of Clayton Lockett. He was a victim of an ugly, botched chemical injection that only those bent on seeking revenge through extreme suffering could justify to be a necessary means to justice.

A state execution is no time to risk the necessary sanctity involved in taking a human life in retribution. Lockett was judged to have committed horrible, unthinkable crimes. He may have deserved to be put to death; however, any state entity that commits unnecessary cruelty does not live by the creed of the United States Constitution or by the beliefs of a Christian nation. 

“But secondly you say 'society must exact vengeance, 
and society must punish'. Wrong on both counts. 
Vengeance comes from the individual and punishment from God.” 

 --Victor Hugo
 
 
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