Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Death Penalty

Somewhere online today I read an article that one of the drugs commonly used in executions in the United States is in short supply, and causing some executions to be rescheduled.  The article specifically mentioned Kentucky, because there are three execution warrants on the governor's desk, but the state has only enough of this drug for one execution.  So the governor signed one of the warrants - for the one who had sentenced the earliest (22 years ago, apparently), and postponed the other two until next year sometime.   I thought, how random is that?  Executed with the last dose of one of the drugs available in the whole state.  His execution is scheduled for September 16th.

I'm from Kentucky, so I found myself looking at the pictures and brief synopsis of the crimes of the 37 people on Kentucky's death row.

I believe the USA and Japan are the only remaining industrialized democracies to execute people.  Executions in the USA are normally carried out by the various state governments, it is extremely rare for the Federal Government to sentence someone to death - Timothy McVeigh was the last, I believe. 

Currently 36 states have a death penalty, 14 states & Washington, DC do not have a death penalty. 

All of the states which have capital punishment either require that lethal injection be used, or offer it as a choice to the condemned prisoner.  Most states use a "cocktail" of 3 drugs - Sodium thiopental, Pancuronium, and Potassium chloride.  Sodium thiopental is the one in short supply, nation wide.  It is a barbiturate, used as an anesthetic and causes unconsciousness in a matter of seconds.  Pancuronium causes respiratory paralysis, making the recipient unable to breathe.  Last but not least, potassium chloride causes a quick cardiac arrest.  The drugs are given in the specific order listed.  I think the idea is the condemned prisoner will be put to sleep and as far as he is concerned, that is that.  But it is the other two drugs that actually kill him. 

Lethal injection was implemented because it was deemed to be more humane form of execution than electrocution, gassing or hanging.   Some say it is actually very painful, especially if done even slightly incorrectly, but I'm not sure how they know that.  Also there is apparently no reason why these three drugs are used, except that's how the first state to use lethal injection did it and the Supreme Court said it was ok.

I don't know how I feel about the death penalty.  I personally would never want to be a part of the chain of people who decided to put a person to death, I wouldn't want that responsibility.  I don't have much sympathy for most of the people who find themselves awaiting execution though - to say they aren't nice people would be an understatement.  They are extremely dangerous, and society is better off if they are not part of it. 

But what if a mistake was made?  It has been known to happen.  10 years ago a Republican governor of Illinois imposed a moratorium on executions within the state after DNA evidenced cleared a dozed death row inmates of the crimes they were sentenced to death for.  I think he eventually commuted the other death row inmates sentences to life in prison. 

Also I know how life works, and lots of times things are arbitrary - for example the person in Kentucky being executed with the last dose of Sodium thiopental, while two others scheduled to be executed get a reprieve, however temporary, seems arbitrary to me.  But that's the least of it.  A person frequently ends up on death row because of his gender,  his race or the race of the victim, his geographic location, his financial status, his (lack of) intelligence, his standing or lack of standing in the community and the effectiveness of his defense (which frequently depends on his financial status).  Two people can be found guilty of similar crimes and receive completely different punishments.  There have been instances where the person who killed someone received a life sentence, while another person waiting in the "getaway car" so to speak received a death sentence.

One of the prisoners on Kentucky's death row was convicted of murder and sentenced to life, eligible for parole after 25 years or so.  He appealed his sentence and won a new trial.  At his second trial, he was convicted again and sentenced to death.  Same person, same crime, same circumstances, two different sentences. 

No one can convince me that of all the people awaiting execution in the USA (I dont know how many, but it must be hundreds), or of all the people ever executed in this country, there has never been a mistake.  Apparently in 2000 there were a dozen wrongful convictions in Illinois leading to death sentences, and that is a lot.  I'm glad I wasnt the last person executed in Illinois before the governor decided there was a problem.

Most of the people awaiting execution in the USA are guilty as sin.  Most are very dangerous people, and I would not want them anywhere near me.  It's like they have a sense of entitlement that tells them it's ok to kill other people to get what they want or to deal with their problems.  They need to be in prison, and they need to be there forever as far as I'm concerned - I dont have too much faith in rehabilitation.   But the whole death penalty situation seems very random to me, when considered as whole across the whole country. It does seem "arbitrary and capricious".  And very, very final.  No chance to correct a mistake.

Life without parole, in some terrible prison, decades of a lonely and probably dangerous existence with people just as dangerous as they are seems a good enough punishment for me.

4 comments:

Patti Anne said...

If a death penalty would defer murder, I'd be all for it. Trouble is, it appears many murderers want the easy way out of a situation and see that killing someone is easier than dealing with them. So, no death penalty is going to defer stupid thinking. My friend's brother was killed many years ago in Minnesota. He was 18 at the time and worked in a service station. Two men tied him up, robbed the store, then killed him. Terry and her family were devastated because they caught those guys and gave them life at the time, which in Minnesota translated to 18 years. So, when Terry was 40 years old, the murderers were released back into society. She and her family felt that that was not much of a sentence at all. Her brother died at 18 and Terry misses him every day. I never met him, but worked with Terry and remember never seeing her smile again.

Kathleen Amnesty said...

You wrote: But what if a mistake was made? It has been known to happen.

Many, many mistakes have been made. 138 of them in the USA, actually. That's the number of people who were exonerated AFTER being sentenced to death.

There's a 139th person who wasn't so fortunate. Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for setting a fire that killed his children. Years after his execution, forensic experts discovered that the fire was not, in fact, arson after all.

The investigator of the fire decided, according to an interview, that the man was guilty because there was a restraining order on him to keep him from having contact with his wife.

My personal friend, Ray Krone, who grew up in York County, PA, where I now live, was sentenced to death and later became the 100th person in the United States to be exonerated after being sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit.

The death penalty system is broken beyond repair. Are any of us willing to be the next innocent person to be executed?

Kathleen

A Valdese Blogger said...

Thanks for your comments. I honestly don't see how it would be possible not to make mistakes, honest or otherwise. I figured it would be more than 138.

Heather said...

Very interesting post. I have been uncertain about the whole issue myself. I had a friend in high school and her sister (Raylene Rice) and two others were brutally murdered in Waco and the man has since been put to death. NOW they are uncertain that they even had the right guy in the first place.
http://www.nytimes.com/1997/07/25/opinion/the-wrong-man.html

Soo, now I don't know if the death penalty is doing what it's supposed to be doing..killing real murderers.