Another botched execution reinforces the cruelty of capital punishment

May 1, 2014 • 7:56 am

You’ve surely heard of the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on Tuesday, in which that inmate’s vein “exploded” after he was given the first drug, the sedative midazolam.  After the inmate is rendered unconscious, two more drugs are supposed to be injected in succession: vecuronium bromide, which paralyzes the breathing muscles, and then potassium chloride, which stops the heart. It’s not clear how far they got into the execution procedure, and whether the second drug was actually injected, for Oklahoma officials aren’t talking.

Lockett, whose lawyers had sued Oklahoma for details about the drug’s origins (they’re provided by small “compounding pharmacies” that aren’t regulated very strictly), died of a heart attack shortly thereafter. Another execution scheduled the same day has been put off for at least two weeks.

CNN reports the gruesome scene:

Lockett lived for 43 minutes after being administered the first drug, CNN affiliate KFOR reported. He got out the words “Man,” “I’m not,” and “something’s wrong,” reporter Courtney Francisco of KFOR said. Then the blinds were closed.

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, who was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery.

After administering the first drug, “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 said that Lockett’s vein had “exploded.”

The execution process was halted, but Lockett died of a heart attack, Patton said.

If that’s not “cruel and unusual punishment,” I don’t know what is.  Because regular and foreign pharmacies refuse to furnish the drugs for this form of retributive punishment, there’s not much quality control. And I can’t understand why, if they must execute inmates, they can’t do it in the relatively painless way that vets euthanize animals: with pentobarbital or other derivatives that first put the animal to sleep and then cause death.  I’ve had this done to a cat, and several of you have gone through this traumatic procedure, but at least we know that it’s quick and there’s no sign of the animal suffering.

Nevertheless, like innocent people sentenced to death, botched executions aren’t uncommon; the Death Penalty Information Center described 44 botched executions since 1977, when U.S. states began executing people after a decade’s respite. Warning; the descriptions are graphic and horrific, but if you are in favor of the death penalty, even by lethal injection, read about how many things have gone wrong, some of them undoubtedly due to the incompetence of the executioners.

But we shouldn’t kill people at all, if for no other reason than subsequent evidence could show the inmate was actually innocent.  that has happened, you know, and more than once. And once you’re dead, there’s no bringing you back.  But it’s still cruel and unusual punishment, for it forces someone to know the exact time and method of death, which to me seems horrible. And it’s more expensive than the logical alternative: life without parole, which is still a deterrent and keeps the criminal out of society.

America is the only First World country to retain judicial executions, and it’s barbaric and embarrassing. Here, from Time magazine, is the list of people we (and by “we”, I mean our country) have killed. The hiatus from 1967-1977 was ended when the Supreme Court ruled that executions were constitutional. You can go to the website and, by using your mouse over the chart, see what happened in any given year:

Screen shot 2014-05-01 at 6.07.43 AM

221 thoughts on “Another botched execution reinforces the cruelty of capital punishment

  1. >>America is the only First World country to retain judicial executions

    Depends on whether you count Japan as a first world country.

    Lethal injection is indeed a cruel execution method. If capital punishment should exist than we should consider nitrogen asphyxiation as method of execution, as this is a quick and more or less painless.

    1. Its not without its dangers though. Given that there have been a fair number of deaths in the space program because of N2 building up in compartments, I could easily see a situation where the gas didn’t vent properly or building up in a different area, and then killing others.

      1. N2 should be applied to the condemned with an properly designed mask, connected to a bottle containing just enough N2 to kill one person, with an airtight tube.

        1. … and if the mask leaks, so that air gets in and nitrogen leaks out ? Second attempt, and you’re automatically into “cruel and unusual punishment” territory.

          1. Humans can’t notice the difference between breathing normal air and pure nitrogen, as CO2 is exhausted each outward breath in both cases. So if air comes in, one wouldn’t notice it. Further in NA one would loss consciousnesses in 15s.

            1. You’ve just changed the design of your system very substantially. I’d advise you to get some experience with breathing apparatus before trying to design such a system. I’ve (probably) got a lot more experience with BA than you (scuba diver, and I recently had to shave my beard off because of poison gas at work and the consequent need to be ready to work in BA), so could probably help you to design a workable system. Then again, I also know how to make explosives from household chemicals and kill people I dislike with them. I choose to not do that.

              So if air comes in, one wouldn’t notice it. Further in NA one would loss consciousnesses in 15s.

              [I assume you mean “N2” not “NA”, otherwise this becomes incomprehensible.]
              If you get air leaking in, then the asphyxiated person is likely to not die. A colleague’s brother had a H2S knock-down a few years ago, which trashed his lungs (pulmonary oedema) and left him at very low oxygenation levels for an hour or so (while the survivors ran off, got the BA they should have been using, came back, retrieved the knocked-down work party and re-sealed the wellhead). He’s not dead. He is a doubly incontinent husk with no speech or memory, but hey, that’s not a “cruel and unusual punishment”, is it? There’s no person inside the skull to be punished.
              (The colleague and brother were Egyptian, so he had to come out of retirement to support his brother’s wives and children. Of course there was no insurance. They worked for a Gulf-state national oil company, so of course as foreigners, got no settlement. Welcome to the oilfield!)

              1. >>I assume you mean “N2” not “NA”, otherwise this becomes incomprehensible.

                NA stands for nitrogen asphyxiation.

                >>If you get air leaking in, then the asphyxiated person is likely to not die.

                The pressure inside the tube and mask would ideally a slightly bit higher than the surrounding air pressure. Hence in case of of leakage, nitrogen will flow out of the system, not air flowing inward until both pressures have been equalized.

                Any substantial leak in the system would either be visible or can be heard. Consequently, testing the system before an execution would be easy.

              2. Well, I’ll let you design your country’s next murder tool. Most of the issues that you’re talking about have been learned already by innocent people dieing in BA malfunctions and accidents. Since we’re talking about a technology designed for killing people, I’m sure that you’re happy to handle the ethical implications of the design errors you’re going to make as you try to design your perfect (and cheap, don’t forget cheap! Cheap is always important.) death machine.

        1. Interesting indeed!

          I’d fear this might only increase the proportion of people in favor of the death penalty, though.

        2. Just got round to watching this video. The professor interviewed toward the end certainly opposed “pain free” execution (doesn’t consider anything that occurs to the convict between the day sentence is pronounced and the instant years later of death as pain, it would seem).

          He got pretty animated, became quite hostile to the suggestion that an executed prisoner would not suffer from the same sort of pain as a victim bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Didn’t come right out and make a case for the old draw n’ quarter, crushing under rocks slowly added to a rising pile, or flaying alive. Maybe a slashed throat, or bleeding out from a pistol shot into the intestines would suffice. At minimum some nice choking gas.

  2. Part of the reason they have big problems with execution is that the AMA and whatever association governs Nursing are both against having doctors and nurses involved in the execution of criminals. With good reason, since they are supposed to ‘do no harm’.

    So, the people doing the execution necessarily tend to have little medical knowledge and training.

    1. There are surely enough doctors and nurses in this country of a conservative bent that finding the necessary expertise wouldn’t be a problem. The Nazis seemed to find what they needed.

        1. The US Govt seems to have little trouble finding ‘qualified’ people to conduct torture, so I don’t see why it should be harder to arrange for murder to be done competently. Ergo, it’s a state-federal thing.
          It should only take a small number of ethically misguided but medically qualified individuals to write a set of instructions, and then the business itself could be done by any old citizen drafted in for the occasion.

          1. Phlebotomy isn’t the kind of thing you can just learn by reading an instruction book, even with healthy, cooperative patients. Getting a needle in the vein of a struggling sacrificial victim is going to take considerable skill, especially if he’s earlier engaged in a bit of prophylactic self-mutilation to thwart the murder attempt (as I heard had happened in this particular case).

            Could the State find somebody with no skill and fewer morals and no sense of human decency to try to perform the procedure? Obviously; that’s exactly what happened in this particular murder. But then you’re not following the legal protocol. Might as well just strap the guy down, forget about the needle, and hold a pillow over his face until he stops struggling. It’d be just as (il)legal, and every bit as cruel, unusual, inhumane, and uncivilized.


          2. “ethically misguided but medically qualified” — I bet you don’t see that on very many CVs.

      1. The Nazis weren’t exactly concerned about limiting the suffering of the executed.

        Really, they were interested in finding new and interesting ways to make people suffer as they died.

    2. I was about to ask how something as routine as IV delivery of a drug can go so wrong.

      Should I be worried about the next time I need to be placed on a drip?

      Maybe there are complications I’m unaware of.

      1. It all depends on the state of your veins and/or on the product being injected. Some products, including very powerful antibiotics, can and do “explode” veins.

    1. And that you can’t redress errors is “cruel and unusual punishment” already there.

  3. I wonder if most conservatives really care if it’s “cruel and unusual punishment?” I could easily see that they might feel that an agonizing death is well-deserved.

    1. That’s demonisation bordering on (plural) ad hominium.
      It might well be true, but that doesn’t make it any the less of a kick in the (communal) sensitive organs.

    2. The logic of capital punishment as a deterrent (which I don’t believe it is) does in fact imply that an agonizing death would be most effective. Something like drawing and quartering, burning at the stake, or crucifixion should be their methods of choice, and the procedure should be public, even televised.

      1. A deterrent isn’t the only argument for capital punishment, there’s also just plain vindictiveness, which conservatives are more likely to display, particularly religious ones.

        This question is important because the argument that it’s “cruel or unusual punishment” won’t carry much weight with many conservatives, who will say “so what?”

        1. “So what?” is that the prohibition is in the US constitution, which they are all so fond of waving about when it suits them.

          If they want cruelty enshrined in the law, then they need to change the constitution first.

          Maybe they should at least read it. L

          1. I think very few are much concerned with what the Constitution says, unless it supports their personal views.

              1. And it’s a sad commentary on the state of the US that I felt the need to check whether that was an article from The Onion or not.

              2. I didn’t even notice it was The Onion until the Reed College daughter mentioned that the Constitution guaranteed universal health care;-) Truth these days is often stranger than fiction.

          2. Not sure about it being a constitutional slam dunk. After all, the guys who wrote the constitution were ok with public hanging.

        2. That’s essentially the response I hear from the goddy conservatives — not only the “so what?” response, but also the “small price to pay” response to the question of executing innocents.

          More expensive to execute than to incarcerate? “small price to pay, considering the extra security we give our society with their permanent removal.”

          Executing innocents, perchance? “small price to pay, since there’s a small enough number of them, and they’ll be in heaven, enjoying the company of that Jesus guy. And more importantly, it’s some other guy getting the treatment, not me or anyone I know. And besides, if they haven’t accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, screw ’em… we need less Obama supporters on the planet, anyway.”

          It’s a win-win-win-win-win…

    3. There is clearly some element of cruelty here: they want the person to be aware that he’s going to die, and they want the witnesses to see that he’s aware. Otherwise, as Jerry said: phenobarbitol.

      To push this point, consider for a moment the full implications of this:

      Then the blinds were closed.

      For a closed-blind execution, the type of drug wouldn’t matter. The “witnesses” would have no idea whether the person was conscious or not. The whole point of having them see and not using painless sleep drug is so that the witnesses can verify that the executee is aware and conscious of what’s happening to him. That he “gets what he deserves.” A truly painless death in a hospital or prison cell will not satisfy the witnesses; it must be public, and he must experience some negative feelings about it. The blinds are there to prevent anyone from seeing excessively cruel punishment, but the entire theater of of an execution is designed with some cruelty in mind.

    4. Lockett didn’t just kidnap and murder. He shot the victim and then ordered that she be buried alive.

      Warner was convicted of raping and murdering an 11 month old infant.

      My sympathy on these cases is reserved for the victims. I don’t think knowing the hour of your death compares with the suffering of an infant being raped by an adult, or of a teen buried alive.

      1. Retribution is reprehensible. There can be no possible moral argument for willfully inflicting suffering on a person in your custody, period, full stop. It is reasonable to quarantine that person from the rest of the population to prevent recidivism. There is a moral imperative to attempt rehabilitation in all cases such that the person may be released from quarantine and rejoin society as a productive member. There are certainly going to be cases where attempts at rehabilitation are exceedingly unlikely to succeed, but that does not remove the imperative to try.

        But it is evil, period, full stop, to inflict suffering on somebody. Nobody, not anybody, “deserves” to be tortured and killed.


        And anybody who engages in such behavior is a torturer and a murderer, a monster of the worst order, and somebody who should be quarantined from society until such time as recidivism is unlikely. Even if that person wears an official uniform.


      2. “My sympathy on these cases is reserved for the victims.”

        The issue isn’t what kind of person that the criminal is, but what kind of people we are. Taking any sort of pleasure or satisfaction in the agony of another is a characteristic that I hope none of us would value in ourselves.

        1. “Lockett didn’t just kidnap and murder. He shot the victim and then ordered that she be buried alive. Warner was convicted of raping and murdering an 11 month old infant.”

          “Taking any sort of pleasure or satisfaction in the agony of another is a characteristic that I hope none of us would value in ourselves.”

          I rationally concur with Ben Goren’s position. However, would one be “taking (excessive, inappropriate) pleasure or satisfaction in the agony” of Lockett (and Warner) by requiring – as a condition for their receiving life without parole instead of capital punishment – that they view death scene photographs of their victims once per week (or month or year)?

          These criminals – themselves having apparently taken a “sort of pleasure or satisfaction” in the respective agonies of a 16-year-old and an eleven-month-old – ought to show a little bloody contrition as a small price to pay for avoiding retribution.

          1. It’s possible that requiring them to view the photos of their victims could be interpreted as a form of pornography to them. But I’m not a psychiatrist.

            1. “It’s possible that requiring them to view the photos of their victims could be interpreted as a form of pornography to them. But I’m not a psychiatrist.”

              Yes, it’s possible, just as they initially would get their kicks when committing the vile deed. If the miscreant viewed it as pornography, seems that that would bolster the case for denying parole (assuming parole were possible).

      3. Not having sympathy is rational, maybe even logical. However, wishing ill will on someone is not rational. It tends to lead to vindictiveness and clouds us of our capacity to reason.

  4. This tw*tter post sums up a viewpoint held by myself and a fair number of Europeans:

    “Dear America. We are not just horrified when your executions go wrong. We are horrified when they go right too.”

  5. FYI, midazolam (Versed)is in wide use in medical and surgical procedures as it causes “anterograde amnesia” — the patient (or criminal) is able to communicate and cooperate with the individuals performing the procedure, but will have no recall of such. If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, you’ve most likely been administered midazolam. It’s likely that the criminal’s knowledge of “something’s wrong” was no longer known to him by the time he finished uttering those words and those words don’t necessarily suggest that he knew anything was wrong with the procedure, but that he felt strange. And the word “exploded” is rather inflammatory. Perhaps using a word like “infiltrated” as would be used if an IV went awry for a hospital patient would be more appropriate.

    Executions may be barbaric (and currently poorly handled), but despite being a Democrat, an atheist, a Pharm.D., and a conservationist, and an avid reader of WEIT, I have no concerns that some barbaric acts should result in the execution of the perpetrator.

    1. I wasn’t the one who used the term “exploded”; I got it from the news. Apparently his vein just blew open. Your term, “infiltrated,” is simply a euphemism that gives the public no idea what is going on.

      1. I’m sorry if it appeared that I was attributing the term “exploded” to our host as I was not. I just think it’s been used by sensationalists when such an action is probably not even possible. When I see “exploded” I visualize blood, skin, IV fluid, and tissue bits spread about the room (or at least on the recipient’s arm/torso). Perhaps we need a MD to weigh in on the use of this term (rather than a doctor of evolutionary biology and a doctor of pharmacy) as the term “infiltrated” is in common use and is not truly euphemistic, but a way to inform a patient that there’s a problem with his/her IV without saying the vein “exploded.” Of course anyone with any regard for a medical patient (RN, MD, IV tech) can then explain to the patient that IV fluid was leaking into the surrounding tissue, beneath the skin, and not moving only down the vein as intended. I would venture a thought that midazolam and IV fluid infiltrating into the surrounding tissue would sting and a criminal might recognize that something was wrong. I think he’d be saying something other than “something’s wrong” if there was an explosion in his arm.

        Perhaps the same MD can address another quote attributed to the online article I read that said “midazolam was supposed to render him unconscious” because that, once again, sensationalizes the failure of the procedure and would therefore enhance the concerns of some people that it was barbaric. Inept, most certainly. Barbaric, if considering only the technique when performed properly, no.

    2. Interesting. I have had a colonoscopy and I sure as hell remembered it! Maybe UK procedures are different to US but seeing your innards on a TV screen was a strange experience.

          1. I just had one recently and the fire alarm went off right as they were starting to put in my IV. We all had to traipse downstairs. Not sure what would have happened if any of us had had the camera in…

            I wanted to watch but the sedation was so quick (and also so quick to go away) that I missed the pics and barely felt woosy afterwards ( just hungry after 36 hrs sans food…I think that Jerry had just posted all those amazing Mexican noms and I was drooling.)

            1. The sedation was great. The doc told me to turn around and close my eyes because I’d be out fast & I was.

              1. That g*dawful-tasting gallon of stuff you have to drink beforehand is the worst part.

              2. I had different stuff – I had to take a variety of pills. That at least was better than the yucky drink.

              3. I’ve had a number of colonoscopies, most recently last year. The pre-procedure cocktail wasn’t nice but was vastly better than the old formulations.

      1. I was sedated but what I definitely remembered was having paramedics at my house when I was fainting from “the purge”. I didn’t realize how much my blood sugar would drop without food. I remember thinking, while about to lose consciousness “I’m going to die like Elvis on the toilet & if this is dying it isn’t so bad aside from the cramps”. 😀

        The actual procedure was the most pleasant part since I vomited all the way there and then when I woke up & then all the way home all while I had a splitting head ache.

        1. I think that is how I view death (or my death). When it happens it will not be all that bad…apart from the fact that I might be in pain from something and that it is I who has to endure it. I can deal with pain though.

          Feynman once said: “I would hate to die twice, it’s so boring.”

    3. The ‘exploded’ vein could be due to too high a rate of infusion, which either ruptured the vein or pushed it away from the needle. The latter error is common in hospitals. It appears that they went ahead with the finishing steps of the protocol, I guess without the injections directly entering the bloodstream. The defendant was supposed to be sedated by then. Despite ones’ views on capitol punishment, surely the first complication from the protocol should have terminated the procedure. That would have been done when putting down a pet.

    4. What purpose is served by having the execution in such a room, with such a drug, rather than having it in a hospital room using the same drug they use to put cats to sleep?

      I think very clearly that execution alone is not the purpose of the procedure. An execution is not just about ending someone’s life, its about ending it in a way the victims and witnesses will think is appropriate to the crime. And that’s barbaric; we don’t need and shouldn’t have revenge-based justice.

    5. Somebody said: “I have no concerns that some barbaric acts should result in the execution of the perpetrator.”

      Even if 4% of the people getting “legally” murdered are innocent? I think we live on different planets. I’m happy not to live on your planet

  6. And it’s more expensive than the logical alternative: life without parole, which is still a deterrent and keeps the criminal out of society.

    But is also barbaric. It’s time this country realized that medieval punishments are not the way to go. All they do is allow sick old people to get their rocks off at the thought of other people suffering.

    The biggest deterrent to crime is the likelihood of getting caught.

    1. The biggest deterrent to murder is living in a society that does not think that life is cheap, and disposable at will. This is why I find the sight of someone in civilian clothes in a restaurant displaying a revolver absolutely objectionable and insulting. I once witnessed this. If I had been the restaurant owner, I would have thrown him out immediately.

      1. Except dude was armed so it makes it all the more delicate when dealing with sensitive conversations amongst those packing heat.

  7. I read the Guardian’s piece about the execution a day or so ago and as usual (although I know I shouldn’t) I read the comments below the piece. As one might expect in the Guardian, the majority of commentators expressed their horror and disgust. However, mixed in with those were a few comments, seemingly from US readers and one or two claiming to be from Oklahoma, expressing their happiness that the executed bloke suffered terribly whilst also claiming that the majority of Oklahoma citizens would agree with them. I wondered whether that could possibly be true. I’ve never been to the US but it paints such a terrible portrait of the country.

  8. I was thinking about this whole ordeal on my long commute and it is quite bizarre how there seems to be such a quandary as how to humanely execute people when we put our pets to sleep humanely (I’ve been through this awful experience & hate it but do it for the animal).

    I also came to the conclusion that the state shouldn’t execute people but that is because if I or someone I cared about were the victim of a crime, I’d want to satiate my own blood lust. I recognize this as a human instinct so I’m unapologetic about it, but I also recognize it as incompatible with living in a just & safe society so this is where the state needs to set the “right” example and not satiate my own blood lust.

    1. I always wondered why the people that don’t trust the government to do anything are usually the same people that seem perfectly happy to have it execute people.

  9. I had considered sending you the link to the Beeb coverage of the same, but I figured that you didn’t need another round of having to argue against your country-people.

    And I can’t understand why, if they must execute inmates, they can’t do it in the relatively painless way that vets euthanize animals: with pentobarbital or other derivatives that first put the animal to sleep and then cause death

    I would guess – and it is a guess – that the patents or manufacture licenses are are held by non-US organisations, and they fear that if they tried using those drugs, then the supply (and manufacturing licenses) for the US would be halted, to the considerably greater detiment of people undergoing medical treatment. Which would annoy the voters.
    Alternative : those drugs are required to be administered by a licensed practitioner (vet or medic), and they can’t get people with the right tickets to do it. But I think that incredible – there’s no shortage of medics of extreme opinions at both ends of the spectrum, so surely they could find at least one (nationally) qualified “Dr Death”, even if s/he did have to spend almost all of their life on the road between executions.
    The wife and I are planning a holiday in Germany, and it brought my trip to Dachau KZ (on the centreline of the 1999 total eclipse) ; the prototype gas chambers there really disturbed me, because I could see the process of rational design of killing machines. Done by people who weren’t raving lunatics, and who had education and training that I could recognise in myself. So I doubt that America really couldn’t find a “Dr Death” if they really wanted one.

    1. Based on news sources, the only company allowed to sell pentobarbital in the US is a Dutch company, and they will not allow it to be used for executions. So we ‘must’ seek out alternative methods for execution.

      1. Sub-text : if someone buys it from them and then sells it on for use in executions, then that’s it ; breach of contract ; no further supply.
        As a tactic, it certainly appears to be having more effect on American (state) behaviour than decades of persuasion and argument. What was that saying about “speak softly and carry a big stick”.
        How long, do you think, until the firing squad and the noose come back?

        1. If they only way we Americans can be brought to stop murdering our citizens is by the economic sanctions of domestic and foreign pharmaceutical countries, that’s perfectly fine by me.

          I don’t think the bloodier killing methods are going to return. I don’t think the modern public has the stomach for it, and I think the Supreme Court might have already declared them cruel and unusual.

          Incidentally, the ’70s-era Supreme Court ruling that permitted the resumption of judicial murder was very specific in only permitting the three-drug “cocktail” that is no longer available. I’m actually a bit surprised that nobody’s gotten a successful challenge that the Nazi-esque experimentation of new ways to kill prisoners hasn’t been legally sanctioned.

          I have high hopes, but not necessarily matched expectations, that Mr. Lockett might actually have been the last person to be subjected to judicial murder in the States. At least, the potential exists. It wouldn’t be that much of a stretch at this point for all such premeditated murders to be put on indefinite hold “until a ‘better’ way of killing the victims can be found,” and that’s exactly the type of opening that could potentially never be wedged shut again. Any sort of “study” would have to take a long time in the first place, and it would have to make its way through the courts before it could be approved…and, if both those processes take long enough, deciding to start killing people again may not be politically feasible by that point.

          And there’re logistical concerns. Murder advocates generally aren’t satisfied with painless death; they want their victims to suffer, the more the better. Something like nitrogen asphyxiation just would not satisfy their blood lust, and so wouldn’t get any support from the pro-murder lobby. Older methods are already out because they’ve been deemed too barbaric. That leaves only pharmaceutical methods, and the pharmacies have already shown they’re through being accomplices to murder. Small compounding pharmacies might be willing to cooperate…but word will get out, and they’ll quickly be ostracized and go out of business.That, in turn, leaves basically nothing left. There might be calls for the states to cook up the drugs themselves, but there’s no way that’d pass regulatory muster — certainly not at the judicial and federal (FDA) levels.

          So…there’s hope. We could still fuck it up, to be sure…but we just might, kicking and screaming, have to stop murdering our own citizens.

          Yay for us.


          1. The good news is, at least I think I read this in The Better Angels of Our Nature, US execution frequency seems to be trending down and this typically precedes an outright ban on them.

            I think the only way the US would slip the other way would be if there was a massive failure of the state. In other words, everything fell to crap because of some crisis. I really don’t want that to happen. Canada relies on the States to not be completely crazy & every time we see some weird religious thing take place down there, we all wring our hands a little.

              1. And we have thanked the States by sending our crazy Mayor Ford to Chicago for rehab…

              2. We also gave him Justin Bieber. We don’t want him back. Maybe they can keep Ford too.

          2. Incidentally, the ’70s-era Supreme Court ruling that permitted the resumption of judicial murder was very specific in only permitting the three-drug “cocktail” that is no longer available.

            Ummm, wasn’t Gary Gilmore (of the “Eye’s” song fame) executed by firing squad? And a number since?
            Or has that been quashed by SCOTUS now?

            1. I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure it’s been quite a while since anybody’s been executed by any means other than pharmaceutical. Judicially executed, of course; we’ve engaged in lots of extra-judicial executions of late, especially by predator drone but also cruise missile and plain old firing squad.

              Politically, it’d be very hard to revive the older, less “sophisticated” murder methods. And just yesterday Obama at a press conference said he’s ordering the AG to perform a sweeping investigation into the death penalty, including racial inequities. Since the President has the power to pardon and commute anybody for any reason, if the Justice Department says we should stop executing people, the states won’t have any further say in the matter. And Obama is a lame duck now, so it’s the sort of thing he could get away with…and that it’d be hard to undo after the fact.

              There’s hope, but still plenty of opportunity to fuck it up royally.


              1. There’s hope, but still plenty of opportunity to fuck it up royally.

                “presidentially”, surely?

              2. Nixon had aspirations of royalty, or so I understand, complete with velvet robes and what-not. Save Carter, every president since has dramatically expanded the power of the Executive in ways that Nixon could only have dreamed of. If what we have now aren’t de-facto royal dynasties (especially with it being extremely likely that the next President will be either another Bush or another Clinton), I think it’s high past time we stopped pretending.

                And stop calling me, Shirley!


              3. (especially with it being extremely likely that the next President will be either another Bush or another Clinton)

                I see your point about hereditary presidencies, but there’s a significant difference in that Hilary Clinton is much more her own woman than Shrub^2 is his own cutting. In fact, of the two, Irather suspect that it was always Bill who passed the metaphorical pants to Hilary when they were getting dressed. It would explain a lot.

            2. Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad — a more humane way to go than a botched lethal injection. I recommend Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song.

  10. Jerry the reason pentobarbital and other barbiturates are not used is that most, if not all such compounds are manufactured in Europe not the US and The European Commission has prohibited the export of drugs to the US that mey be involved in judical murders. I am not sure about midazolam, but if it is sourced from the EU, it will no longer be available. This nearly happened with propafol(sp?)

    1. I have a sneaking suspicion we get our pharmaceuticals from that bastion of judicial equanimity, China. It would also explain the question of dodgy quality control.

      1. Could be, but I prefer to think that some Oklahoma official got an spam email from a Canadian pharmacy offering dodgy execution drugs, all typed out in awkward, barely intelligible text masking to avoid keyword-based spam filters.

    2. Andrew (and Mark S.),
      We are probably talking about tenths of grams or grams per year production needed. A grad student in a decent lab could probably make enough to supply the entire judicial system.

      Now I am *not* suggesting that any grad student be given such an assignment. I am just pointing out that we are talking about amounts that the U.S. could easily manufacture on its own, and the entire production needed for all executions nationwide would probably cost on the order of the cost of a year’s incarceration of a death row inmate (i.e., five figures, maybe six per year to keep the lab in good shape).

  11. Yes, I saw that in the news yesterday and I was horrified and sickened. I am staunchly against capital punishment, whatever the criminal’s crime may have been. Capital punishment is not justice, it is vengeance, it is state-sponsored murder, it is stooping to the level of the criminal and it robs the criminal of a chance to truly repent and mend his or her ways, even if he or she is to spend the rest of his or her life in jail. A prisoner can still be a useful member of society through work and/or creativity. The death penalty is by definition cruel and unusual, it is primitive, uncivilized and barbaric, and it appeals to the worst in people.

    Furthermore, it has been plainly demonstrated that the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect, quite the contrary. It even is used by profoundly depressed and maladjusted, mentally ill people, as “suicide by execution”, akin to “suicide by cop”.

    Then there is, as you have pointed out, the possibility of executing an individual who turns out to have been innocent of the crime of which he or she was accused, judged and sentenced.

    1. Furthermore, executions are cruel and unusual punishments on the innocent members of the executed’s families – wives, husbands, parents, children and siblings.

    2. Executions of innocent people have happened. That is an accepted fact. Your points are exactly right. In addition, we are between a rock and a hard place b/c executions have been heavily politicized in conservative states, which is where most executions happen, b/c politicians are not eager to be painted as being ‘soft on crime’. So we see things like executions of people who were juveniles when they committed their crime, and execution of people who are determined to be mentally retarded.

      1. One of the things Hitch liked to try to keep reminding the left was how Bill Clinton used an execution to further his political career, even going so far as to fly back to Arkansas during his presidential campaign in ’92 to personally oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, who had inadvertently lobotomized himself in a suicide attempt during capture (and so was not a threat to anyone in any event).

        There are also other issues — like Greg Palast’s recent uncovering of both Bill and Hillary’s Koch Bros. support in the years preceding the Clinton terms, and the predictable concessions made to our financial (Glass-Steagal repeal), trade-labor (NAFTA), and electoral processes that have helped solidify our sorry mess of a country. I fully expect our next election to be another farce, esp. if Hillary is the front runner. The Koch-suckers will be in stitches that their domination of the system went so smoothly, with our supposed “left” so thoroughly hoodwinked.

        1. Not disputing what you say about Clinton using the event to his advantage, but frankly I think Governors should attend all executions in their state, whether they agree with them or not. If the state is going to do it, then the State’s ultimate representative should be there to witness it being done.

          1. I agree. I’m not sure if a Governor can pardon somebody if their legal team doesn’t ask for it, but if so, it would make a Governor personally culpable in any event. Also… no clearing the Governor out of the witnessing area… no closing the blinds on the police’s ultimate boss in the event of a mishap. Any surviving jurors/judges should be forced to witness, no matter what happens. Jurors are frequently badgered by judges — that they have no power except to decide guilt or innocence based on the facts — which, as of this date anyway, is still a lie.

  12. Incidentally, to those who are pro-judicial murder and say that “they would act as executioner”, Ted Heath had this reply “Are you prepared to be executed by mistake as well?”
    (Hat tip to Nick Gotts for the qoute)

  13. What happens in an execution is that someone in power, ultimately the state governor, is getting other humans to kill the prisoner. Since normal humans find the reality of killing another person traumatic, the governor will be sentencing persons who carry out the killing to extended mental trauma; unless, of course, they select psychopaths to do their business. It is on record that even soldiers under attack have fired over the heads of the enemy, so abhorrent it the taking of human life to normal persons. Unless, of course, your society has so perverted your nature.

    1. The procedures for execution by firing squad had some features that were meant to distance the riflemen from their role. The victim was hooded, to not see their face, and at least one of the riflemen would have blanks in their gun (without knowing who) so they supposedly would not know if they fired a real bullet. Not sure if there are similar measures with lethal injection.

        1. They did eventually develop special cartridges filled with wax to provide realistic recoil and eliminate the ‘problem’ of people knowing whether they had fired the blank, but the whole thing seems a bit silly to me. They’re just encouraging the shooters to delude themselves…

  14. Portugal, Spain and Norway have softer penal systems in the world, in fact these are the only European Union countries that have no life imprisonment.
    There is not life in Spain. In Spain, the fanaticism of defenders of the rights of criminals is so great life imprisonment that oppose even when there is a possibility of parole. In 1975 the criminal law in Spain professors penal law demanded the abolition of the death penalty and prohibition of all sentences of more Than 20 years. Spain Currently the maximum penalty is 20 years for first degree murder, if it is a multiple murder the maximum sentence is 25 years however Penal Reform in 2003 raises the maximum compliance in a case 40 years. Terrorism important to note That Were These penalties Fully never implemented; In 25 years, When the subject has been convicted of two or more Crimes and Punisher is one of Them by law with Imprisonment of up to 20 years.
    In 30 years, When the subject has been convicted of two or more crimes and some of Them by punisher by law is 20 years Imprisonment Exceeding.
    40, When the subject has Been Convicted of two or more Crimes and at least two of Them Are Legally punisher by Imprisonment Exceeding 20 years.
    40, When the subject has Been Convicted of two or more Crimes of Terrorism in the second section of Chapter V of Title XXII of Book II of this Code and Any of Them by punisher by law is 20 years Imprisonment Exceeding.
    You See That Follows the Principle Applies Above here, Though INSTEAD of the limit of 20 years Establishing the 40, But The Substance Remains The Same: Do Not care to kill three to thirty-three or three hundred thirty-three people.Spain penals Laws Are Even Worse Than the England: no life sentence, conjugal visits, gymnasiums, swimming pools (sic) in prisons.USA and Spain Had too many killers eleven who Were Sentenced to Death for Murders initial, kill again after having Been Spared execution: Kenneth Allen McDuff, Darryl Kemp, Joe Morse, Harvey Louis Carrignan, Bennie Demps, Eddie Simon Wein, Mad Dog Taborsky and on and on. These killers and rapists had been executed the first time around, many innocents would have lived.
    Clear that after abolishing death the “reformers” would seek to attack LWOP next, then any long prison sentences.
    Please, I deeply respect for human rights of the victims also Activists fight against the Death Penalty but want to keep the LWOP. I Just Want That Victims Are Not Deceived as happened in Spain.

    1. Theoretically you can die while on life without parole in Sweden, but practice is to change to a dated sentence of 12 – 25 years. [ ]

      I don’t see any discussion on the statistics of effectiveness on state murder, life without parole, dated sentences or Jerry’s favorite, treatment. You assert that it is bad that sentences are dated, prisons threat humans as humans, or using parole (“kill again”), but you give no data. In the latter case murder recidivism should be compared to the population at large, other sentences or treatments et cetera, as well as frequency of murders among other inmates (who are innocents too in that respect or at least humans, depending on your morality) – it may be that there isn’t any noticeable differences. That makes the whole comment sound like an unsupported grievance, no more.

      1. Data! That really is the point! On wikipedia,

        Spain’s intentional murder rate is one of the lowest 0.8 / year / 100.000 people

        As a comparison, Britain(1.2), France(1.1), Portugal(1.2), Sweden(1.0), Norway(2.2), Finland(2.2), Denmark(0.9), Germany(0.8), Italy(0.9) and finally, USA(4.8).

        In the end it really comes down to what you want: if you want a lower probability of being killed, Spain is definitely doing something right. Comparing with other nations, I don’t think harshenning the punishment would improve the data for Spain.

        On the other hand, if you simply want revenge or harsh punishments, Spain sucks and USA is a paradise.

        I can speak only for myself but I would rather have Spain’s numbers than America’s, even if that meant that some criminals might get it easy. The other side of that is that no wrongly convicted person would risk being tortured to death and he could even think about having their life back someday before dying of old age.

        1. I wonder if there is a correlation between how shitty your country’s weather is & murder. 😉 I kid. I kid.

    2. I’m sure that the situation is Spain has a lot to do with reaction to the Franco regime (significance of that 1975 date). Imagine what German law would now be if Hitler had ever got into power… oh wait.

  15. A scheduled execution, even if it can be accomplished without inflicting physical pain, includes psychological terror that is not justified even by the weak argument that it accomplishes a deterrence effect, a claim that is disproved by every murder of passion or cunning.

  16. But the mistake of advocates for more lenient sentences to criminals is to ignore the experience of other countries in their policies on crime.Clear That abolishing death after the “reformers” would seek to attack next LWOP, Then Any Longer prison sentences. Amnesty International Campaigns in Japan to abolish the death penalty oppose enter LWOP but also … That is the funny thing According To Japanese law a life sentence dog Apply for parole only after 10 years And Also Those under 20 years or Be Sentenced events to the life sentence …
    It is true That the lobby in USA PRO-CRIMINAL is ambiguous on LWOP But this is Merely a tactic expect to deletion of the death penalty … to demand the release of Convicted murderers to life Imprisonment. So has-been the case with France, Germany, Spain, etc.

    1. You seem to be linking abandoning the death penalty with being “soft on crime”. This is not what is being advocated. Life without parole is the acceptable alternative to execution. Reforming deficient legal systems in manners outside of abandoning execution is a separate matter.

      1. Life without parole is the acceptable alternative to execution.

        It’s not acceptable at all: it’s equally barbaric. Other countries manage to achieve far, far lower rates of violent crime using rational and humane means. It really is time we stopped being medieval in the US about crime and punishment.

        (I thought Canada was one of the rational nations in terms of sentencing. Am i wrong?)

        1. Yes, it’s not nice to be locked up for your entire life. It’s also nice to protect other people from being raped and killed by you if you are so inclined. Until we can cure people from behaving in this way, we don’t have a lot of choice.

          Further, prison isn’t as gulag as you might think. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to go there but prisoners can vote, they are fed, clothed and even educated. In Canada, a convicted killer named Karla Homolka learned French and got her university degree in school. Because of a technicality, she was released even though she participated in the rape and murder of several young females.

          Perhaps you need to explain what is medieaval and barbaric about life imprisonment because I’m pretty sure prison life vaguely resembles being broken on the wheel, burned alive, split in half or rotting in the stocks.

            1. Which is exactly what the Canadian supreme court decided. So the Canadian government introduced ‘life in prison with a chance at parole’.

              But what’s the alternative for people like Robert Pickton, a man who raped and murdered at least 28 women? Canada realized that justice systems are too fallible to prevent executing an innocent.

              On the other hand lot of people live lives that are almost as constrained and less well fed through poverty then what many experience through penal institutions.

              And if they really feel the punishment is unendurable they do indeed have a way out.
              We all do.

              1. Yep, the Masters of Mankind have to feed their prisoners, but not their poor.

              2. Case in point – people on northern reserves live in poverty, have little access to education, face discrimination and social stigma in leaving the res. They actually have it pretty bad – from a human rights perspective even worse.

            2. When I speak of no chance of parole – I mean it for the real bad ones. In Canada, that person is labelled as a dangerous offender.

              It’s more barbaric to let someone like Paul Bernardo, the companion of Karla Homolaka who I linked to earlier, out IMHO.

              1. Europe has good and bad points. We have a much more fair , inexpensive and effective than private healthcare U.S. healthcare system. The patients’ rights are better protected than in USA . We also have bad things , unfortunately the rights of victims of violent crimes are violated and ignored. USA is far more advanced than Europe in this regard. Marsy ‘s Law is an example for Spain and for Europe. Victims may appeal the probation and prison permissions benefits of their attackers , according to the draft law of the Statute of the Victims of Crime which was approved a few weeks ago by the Council of Ministers , at the proposal of the Minister of Justice. The project envisages the possibility for victims of terrorist crimes, homicide, assault and sexual offenses punishable by more than five years in prison , ie most serious crimes , or when you try to events likely to derive a danger to the victim. But I do not trust me . Let’s turn to an association in defense of victims of sex crimes : The association of women Clara Campoamor has warned that , following the annulment of the Parot doctrine , the Spanish Justice ” is putting bombs on the street to rape and kill” therefore required security protocols for victims to know how and where their attackers are .

                ” Affected families are desolate and afraid they might recur ,” stressed the president of this organization, Estrella Blanca Ruiz, in an interview with Efe in which advocates inform victims about the location and physical changes of his attackers including Luis Gallego and Pedro Pablo García Ribado , known as the ‘ elevator rapist ‘ and ‘ rapist portal ‘, respectively.

                Ruiz regrets that can not legally implement these aggressors as an electronic monitoring bracelet , so urges victims that if they find them and feel persecuted or intimidated attend the bodies and state security forces .

                No further believes that the ‘ rapist lift ‘ or ‘ rapist portal ‘ are ready for their reintegration into society and recalls that “have not acknowledged the facts , they have not asked for forgiveness, they are unrepentant , have refused to perform rehabilitation courses and have not compensated their victims . ”

                “In many Valladolid were mugged by the ‘ elevator rapist ‘ and psychological issues affected only 18 complaints were recorded sexual assaults in court ,” argues the president of the association for the defense of women.

                Believes that ” appears” that the European Court of Human Rights, which annulled the Parot doctrine ” does not care ” if these aggressors ” commit a crime again .”

                The president of the association Clara Campoamor also emphasizes that “it is this insecurity that is causing a public alarm .”

            3. It was called the Faint Hope Clause:
              Apparently the Harper government repealed the law, which came into effect in 2011.

              From 1987 to 2010, 1508 offenders were eligible to apply. 146 were deemed eligible for the process, 135 were granted parole, about 10 a year average.

              It’s a shame. It seems to me it was a workable sane solution and gave inmates hope, a reason to behave and better themselves.

              But the Harper government is more about retribution then sane policy.

              And I was mistaken about the Supreme court ruling. It was added after the abolition of the death penalty.

  17. As an atheist who believes that after death is nothingness/oblivion, I argue that the worst punishment would be to lock someone up for life and throw away the key. That is the worst punishment I could imagine. If you want to get even more brutal, I guess you could also keep someone in solitary for life…like Manson. Putting someone to death ends any misery. But if you’re a Christian who believes in the death penalty and hell, the idea of eternal burning and damnation for one’s sins would be a bonus… and the sooner the better.

    1. Unless the killer confesses and is saved. Then killing them sends them to heaven. Which, ironically, Christians themselves would probably see as unjust.

    2. From what I understand of Christian lore, nobody goes to hell or paradise before Judgment Day, a day that is very far off in the future – it will occur after the Second Coming of Jesus which will happen after the Millennium, the latter most certainly has not yet begun, so these narrow-minded “Christians” you mentioned will have to wait for an extremely long time for that morbid satisfaction. Meanwhile, where all these souls have been, are and will be stored is, of course, a total mystery.

      1. Most Christians simultaneously hold the belief that Judgement is, at least subjectively, immediate. Some quote words attributed to JC on the cross in regard to the ‘thieves’ on the neighbouring scaffolds. Apparent inconsistency does not necessarily invalidate the whole concept, if you allow that it’s timey-wimey. Also, storage is not a problem (under certain conditions).

    3. I agree. If I was ever in a position to be sentenced to life imprisonment, I would sincerely hope that they would allow me to choose to be executed instead.

      1. In True Detectives, Rustin advises someone, who he had charmed into confessing that she had killed her children, to kill herself if she gets the chance because prison will be hard on her. I took this to be a blunt statement given to her as an act of kindness.

  18. I read an interesting story about a conference of Amnesty International’s death penalty celeb in Japan. According to Japanese law anyone under 20 years can be sentenced to life imprisonment but to hang if you have more than 18 years. The convicts over 20 years can be sentenced to death or life imprisonment, in the latter case puden eligible for parole after 10 years in prison. Amnesty International was furious because he had submitted a draft law abolishing the death penalty but substitute life imprisonment without parole. The speakers made it clear that under no circumstances accept either the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.

  19. I agree that the abolitionists are not really interested in LWOP. I believe so you know the disastrous results that has resulted in Spain further legal reforms proposed by the liberals: should know the Spanish experience in abolishing the death penalty. You and many people of goodwill who believe abolitionists want to replace the death penalty for life without parole (lwop) unfortunately is not true defenders of the rights of criminals also oppose the parole life sentence with or without parole, these penalties along with the death penalty is banned in Spain and most countries of Latin America. If you do not believe me ask him to look on the Internet data on terrorist and murderer of 25 people Juana Chaos, a case even more shameful that the the Texan Kennet Mc Duff. But for that account as far fanaticism of the abolitionist text accompanying him on the serial killer Gilberto Champa: 20041209elpepinac_14/Tes The alleged murderer of Lleida succeeded in Ecuador passport despite being a criminal in series Gilberto Chamba served eight years for rape and murder of eight women in her countrie.
    Supporters of the abolition of capital punishment are liars and dishonests.Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Penal Reform claim that they want to abolish the death penalty so that they do not die innocent victims of miscarriages of justice but what they do not say is that it is opposed to ferormente The life without parole (lwop) to justify having granted parole to murderers of children and serial killers. truth is that if we defend the parole for lifers assume a high risk that the criminal released to kill.Cases as Kenneth_Allen_McDuff, Gilberto Champa, Darryl Kemp etc.If say that the rehabilitation support for these murderers admitting the risk of dying innocents.Clear that after abolishing death the “reformers” would seek to attack LWOP next, then any long prison sentences.

    1. Recidivism, if I understand you correctly, is a problem with or without the death penalty. Unless you plan on executing every person convicted of a crime.

      The issues of capital punishment and early parole are two separate issues. To suggest that people are being misleading when they say they are concerned with the innocent being convicted is tantamount to calling them liars. I think I know my mind better then you, and I don’t believe there is such a thing as reading minds.

      I’m willing to take people on their word until they prove me wrong. For instance, when we see prosecutors who maintain the guilt of people they have prosecuted, even when new evidence comes to light. Even when the jury finds them not guilty. Even when prosecutors are shown to have been guilty of crimes themselves during the trial yet they almost always walk away with less then a slap on the wrist.

      If justice systems were truly just then minorities and the poor would not be so over represented. Death row inmates wouldn’t be mostly people of color. But they are. Minorities don’t commit that much more crime, but they do wind up in jail and on death row much more.

      That points to a systemic problem of racism and a distinct lack of justice in systems that can take a life, whether or not the state has capital punishment.

  20. It is well that EU’s refusal to sell drugs that nations started to use to murder their citizens (apparently starting in the late 70’s) has spawned problems for such nations.

    But it is bad that it is the murdered that see the problems first. :-/

    And I can’t understand why, if they must execute inmates, they can’t do it in the relatively painless way that vets euthanize animals: with pentobarbital or other derivatives that first put the animal to sleep and then cause death.

    I assume it is because:

    1) There is an ethical problem to use vet tested and approved methods directly on humans, it fuzzifies medical SOP

    2) Above all, these murders are solely for revenge. (Or at least I’m not aware of any statistics that say they work as better deterrents compared to other sentences.) And there is less revenge for the killers if the killed aren’t made explicitly aware, even if sedated, that they are dying.

    Really, the first extant surviving law (Code of Ur-Nammu) is over 4 000 year old when it codified that a murderer (or robber) must be killed. [ ] Later law extended revenge as “eye for an eye” with class-graded modifiers in Hammurabi’s laws [ ], naturally reaching its ultimate revenge-fest in theocratic law (Mosaic Law) – where else?

    You would think that the Enlightenment, which I assume ushered in political egalitarianism (so no grading, no unusual punishment) with Locke, “one of the first of the British empiricists”: Wikipedia, and perhaps removed revenge from consideration (?), would make it into US any day now.

  21. It’s time we started making this clear: everybody who participates in an execution, from the person pulling the trigger or pressing the button or whatever, to the guards escorting the victim to the sacrificial death chamber, to the guards and warden keeping victims on death row, all the way down to the judges and juries and prosecutors who set the process in motion, and up to the elected officials with the power to stay convictions and repeal the laws but don’t…

    …all are cold-blooded murderers and active accomplices to murder.


      1. Yes…but, to be fair, there’s not always a choice, and politicians have been known to change their minds.

        Everybody in a society bears at least some responsibility for the actions of the government, but, in this case, it’s the direct responsibility of those in the chain of decision-making I’m pointing to. I’ve never been in a position where any decision I’ve made would have changed any condemned prisoner’s fate, but the people I’ve listed all have been.

        In that same vein, I’d not place culpability (beyond that carried by all citizens) on the detectives and arresting officers, even while I would place culpability on the prosecutor.

        If the prosecutor doesn’t actively ask for the death penalty, the prisoner is never killed.

        If the judge doesn’t grant the defense’s motion to dismiss the death penalty charges, the prisoner is never killed.

        If at least one of the people on the jury doesn’t vote for the death penalty, the prisoner is never killed. Unlike with a firing squad, there isn’t even the pretense that one might have fired a blank.

        All of the appellate justices have an opportunity to stop the murder.

        The governor and the president both have the opportunity to stop the murder.

        And there wouldn’t have been any of these murders had not many legislators conspired to write the laws and the governors and presidents signed them. And there’ve been ample opportunities to right that injustice since.


        1. As usual, well put.

          Our society’s entire paradigm about penal reform needs attention. But where do we start? Education? Politics? How do we get to the point where we are able to logically and sensibly treat social offenders?

          The name of this blog is “Why Evolution Is True”. Does this include social evolution? Are we evolving as a society?

    1. Who edited Mary Fallin’s Wikipedia page this morning I wonder?
      As of today, the first line opens with ‘Mary “Irresponsible Nut” Fallin (born December 9, 1954)’

  22. Due to injection difficulty, two days ago I had 7 consecutive attempts to put a venous needle into my arm (taking 60 mins): I needed to have contrast medium injected for a MRI scan. One nurse and 3 registrar doctors had a go in turns, all experienced. I was jumping up the wall by the end. I would imagine that the psychological stress of awaiting execution on top of this would be terrible. This would imply to me that any form of injection can go wrong and is therefore unsuitable. I am also a qualified Pharmacologist/Physiologist. I am not looking to find a “suitable” alternative, since I object to the death penalty.

    1. P.S. phenobarbito is not used because the manufacturer objected to its use for this reason

  23. My attitude toward capital punishment was forever changed by Sam Harris’s treatment of moral responsibility in his book, “The Moral Landscape”. He raised the question: what if a murderer’s actions were caused by a brain tumor? Wouldn’t we want to discover and try to medically correct the condition? Or at least put the person somewhere where he/she can be treated. And what does it say of us as a society that we spend more time and money on retribution than on attempting to find out what makes criminals do what they do?

    As a former Christian of 40 years, I can strongly claim that our penal system is 99% based on the Old Testament notion of “an eye for an eye”. Based on the statements made by family and friends of the victims, it should be obvious that the state is just carrying out vendettas on their behalf. It’s way past time for us to grow up and cast off this crap. Our society needs to replace sick religious ideas with logic and science.

    1. Joe,

      I totally back your last statement – the execution of people is barbaric and entirely based in ancient codes of conduct that are long overdue rejecting. Sam Harris’s logic is incredible robust on the subject and I don’t believe anyone can claim that they support the death penalty without having to admit that the support violent retribution as a form of catharsis. Like you say, time to grow up.

    2. “It’s way past time for us to grow up and cast off this crap. Our society needs to replace sick religious ideas with logic and science.”

      I rationally agree with you. However, would you reasonably agree that the person with the most credibility to say that is the one who says it despite having had a close family member gruesomely murdered, as opposed to one who has not had to endure that?

      1. Would you advocate, then, that the argument advanced by the most recently aggrieved has a skootch more merit than one offered by a person aggrieved the week prior? That the judgement of both should be considered quite more reliable than the family of an infant murdered way back last summer? Or perhaps that people who have never lost loved ones to murder have opinions of little, if any, credibility compared to persons who have suffered such loss? Strong anguished emotion is a dodgy good companion in the quest for wise judgement. See what happened re the USA following the events of 9.11.2011.

      2. No. I wouldn’t agree with that at all. That’s what’s known as a conflict of interest. And a doozy at that.

        Just as in science we make every effort to mitigate our biases and consider issues dispassionately, so should we do in law and in dealing with criminals.

        The most directly aggrieved party is the least qualified to pronounce on the matter.

        1. “Dispassionately” is the operative term — but I can certainly understand how the friends and families of the victims would find this hard, if not impossible.

        2. “The most directly aggrieved party is the least qualified to pronounce on the matter.”

          I invite you to similarly forthrightly and specifically state who is most qualified to so pronounce.

          My (attempted) point of my posting is that the position of an aggrieved person – let’s say a mother of a raped and murdered eleven-month-old – who opposes capital punishment as retribution for that offense, is in a sense superior to that same position held by another who has not (yet) had to endure that ordeal and cannot be sure that he/she would still hold that position.

          Have to go to work.

          1. “Who” is qualified to render judgement is to ask the wrong question. All citizens are and should be eligible for jury duty, for example, but advocates test for disqualifying criteria prior to swearing in the panel. A true justice system is consciously structured to filter human bias, including emotional prejudice.

            I have never been sanguine with the practice that permits family members of crime victims to make pleas before the judge, in open court, following conviction of a defendant but just prior to sentencing.

            Dispassionate and fair justice being the point of the exercise, and all that. That is what a thousand years of development of common law is intended to result in, at any rate.

            1. ‘ “Who” is qualified to render judgement is to ask the wrong question.’

              That settles it, apparently. Something is true because someone says it.

          2. “I invite you to similarly forthrightly and specifically state who is most qualified to so pronounce.”

            Why would I want to (not to mention how would I) do that? First, there’s nothing in my comment to indicate the arrogation of that authority. Second, lsnrchrd1 nails it: you start with the assumption that anyone could be a potential juror, then apply the filter of identifying conflicts of interest or other disqualifying criteria.

            If your point was that it’s impressive when clear-headed, unbiased argument comes from a victim, well, sure. I guess I don’t see a whole lot of point in making that point because again, as in science, ideas and arguments should stand or fall based on their own merits, not who is making them.

  24. too be honest, i really don’t care if these executions are botched. Did the people these murderers kill get a clean death in every instance? i highly doubt….

    People on death row should be treated with no rights. They have no right to even demand a clean death, That is a privilege.

    My grandfather was murdered when closing up his shop and robbed. Its easy for outsiders to think botched death penalties is bad thing, But for me i smile

        1. Well I, for one, don’t appreciate banning people who express themselves in a civil manner, just because you don’t like their viewpoint.

          1. You call that a civil manner? Sorry, but I don’t care what or what you don’t appreciate, and it’s a Roolz violation to tell me how to run my joint.

            Imagine thinking it’s “civil” to smile at a botched execution. What world do you come from? Not ours.

            1. I’m reminded of what the captain of my U.S. Navy ship said to me regarding his command/ship (can’t immediately recall why he felt the need to tell me this):

              “It’s my bat, my ball, my ballpark – I win.”

              Aye Aye, sir.

            2. One of the things that the now banned fellow doesn’t understand, is the difference between justice and revenge. And one psychological capacity which is handy, is forgiveness (called letting go), as the opposite, as we have witnessed, is ugly.

              Australia hung it’s last CP person in the 1960s, and I’m glad that we don’t take other people’s lives, nor make someone an executioner.

              And I too have wondered why they didn’t use the veterinary drugs which we have all experienced, as we have said goodbye to a terminal pet.

  25. If they’ve got to execute people, why can’t they just use carbon monoxide? People kill themselves with it all the time and they sometimes don’t even know it’s happening.

    1. I almost died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and I can tell you that, to say the least, it was an extremely unpleasant experience. I had enough consciousness to realize what was happening and enough strength to get myself and my son outside, which saved our lives.

  26. I agree with the argument that the death penalty is wrong. It cannot be undone, even when the victim was wrongly convicted.
    But there is two points I would like to make.

    The drugs are not complicated. Any compounding pharmacy should be competent enough to do the work properly. Of course mistakes happen, but whenever there are humans, mistakes happen. There should be no more or no less of a problem with quality control then with the large pharmaceutical companies. The compounding pharmacies get the same ingredients from the same sources, including from the pharmaceutical companies themselves.

    The problem is likely not the quality control of the drugs, it’s that they’re using terrible methods, the wrong drugs, and humans are not all exactly the same. Plus the people who put the IV in may get it wrong. The current method pumps a lot of solutions through a small vein. There is ample opportunity for things to go wrong, especially when the chemical mixture is just something dreamed up by a doctor without any testing.

    Certainly the methods used for putting down animals would be preferable if it absolutely has to be done, but then the states would be treating humans like pets and stray animals. The optics would be very bad.

    I’d also like to point out that although the US executes a lot of people, if you add the US population overall to the graph of executions you will see the amount per capita has been going down. On a per capita number the US (and other countries) used to execute many, many more people.

    Those two details aside, nothing makes up for killing an innocent person. Nothing. There have been far too many cases of prosecutorial misconduct, innocent men getting freed at the last minute and prosecutors always, always maintaining how guilty the persons are they’ve put away even when there is extraordinary evidence exculpating the convicted person.

    There are still many people who firmly believe that a huge satanic cult raped and murdered babies and children in a small town daycare. Humans are too easily swayed by emotions, nonsense and woo to allow the state to murder in the name of justice.

    1. It has been demonstrated that capital punishment has no deterrent effect, au contraire. There are significantly fewer murders in states and countries that don’t have capital punishment than in those that do.

      1. You are completely, and inarguably, factually mistaken. In addition, to the paper above, you could start with Erhlich’s treatment of this subject.

          1. Yes, there are different papers demonstrating contrary results. You claim “it has been demonstrated” there was no deterrent effect as if there’s a consensus in the econometric literature. There isn’t.

          1. Well, if a 4 paragraph note you plagarised says Erhlich has been discredited, who am I to question?

            The point is it might have a deterrent effect and it might not. In my opinion, the evidence points somewhat toward the former. We can have a reasoned disagree about the methodology involved in these studies, but there is NO way to argue that the issue has been settled.

            1. I could provide you with hundreds more links to studies that back my position, in the five languages that I speak, the links I did provide you with are just the first few I found through Google out of about 29,500,000, just in English.

              1. Not that it is in any way relevant: parti pris, смещение отбора (smeshcheniye otbora), pregiudizio di selezione, selektionsfel – also förspänning.

              1. I’m sorry you decided to make this argument tiresome.

                To anyone else out there who’s less prone to naked confirmation bias, the Erhlich paper is an excellent place to start if you care to understand how economists study hard problems like this.

            2. I don’t think “is CP credible as a deterrent” is the pertinent question.

              So what if it is? The pertinent question is “should we use it?” The fact (?) that something serves as a deterrent does nothing to argue for its use. To demonstrate, a reductio: my 5yo daughter may very well be deterred from sneaking cookies out of the cupboard if I threaten her with death. But I don’t think any of us would say that threat was warranted.

              The argument is now “what, if anything, warrants the threat of death, and do we want to be the kind of people who make that threat?”

              1. I agree. Also it is clear from the fact that many of the countries that have the death penalty have very high murder rates whilst many that do not have the death penalty have low murder rates, that even if there is some deterrent effect it is clearly not very strong. If we want to reduce murder rates it would be much more fruitful surely to investigate what differences between the United States and most western European countries explain the former’s very high murder rate.

              2. I agree entirely that even if it has a deterrent effect, it’s not clear CP should ever be used. However, if it does have a deterrent effect (Erhlich’s original estimate was that each execution prevented 8 murders in his study period), that needs to be taken into the calculus of how and when to use it.

                That being said, statements like “countries or states which practice capital punishment have high murder rates therefore there is not a large deterrent effect” are meaningless since the relevant sociological variables are confounded with each other. The game in econometrics is to tease out when A (capital punishment) is actually causing B (a lower murder rate). If you don’t do this, there are a zillion factors which could be causing a lower murder rate which have absolutely nothing to do with capital punishment.

    2. I selected capital punishment as the topic for a term paper in a public policy class I enrolled in in 1981, four years after the moratorium on US executions ended. I read the majority decision/leading minority decision in the (4, if I recall correctly) pertinent SCOTUS decisions, and over the four months of my research a great deal of the remaining justices’ opinions. These are all heavily footnoted, and I researched each footnote, and many footnotes found at those sites.

      Statistics on death penalty outcomes are scant prior to the creation of the FBI, the first official agency to track data.

      I don’t pretend to remember a great deal of what I encountered. The bibliography for the paper was ten or twelve pages itself. I am confident, though, that I’m accurate in claiming that data indicated no deterrence effect.

      To the contrary, the states that executed the most inmates in any given calendar year experienced spikes in their murder rate in subsequent years– a peak in the immediate following year, then sloping steadily downward for the next several, until inmates convicted of murder in the peak year were in turn executed 6-8 years later. This cyclic rate statistically replicated throughout the data period ~1925 – 1965, and is at least partly responsible for the appeals process implemented as a result of these Court decisions.

      This cycle of waxing-waning homicide rates led to the observation that executions conducted swiftly & frequently resulted in the opposite of deterrence, an argument against state execution nearly as strong as the argument that retribution and vengeance is primitive, barbaric, and endorses and perpetuates violence and terror as a solution to violence and terror.

  27. From botched execution # 31, as listed in Jerry’s “Death Penalty Information Center” link above:

    The execution was witnessed by a Florida State Senator, Ginny Brown-Waite, who at first was “shocked” to see the blood, until she realized that the blood was forming the shape of a cross and that it was a message from God saying he supported the execution.[49]

    1. Okay that more than anything concerning this whole botched execution, sickened me.

      1. Kinda epitomizes the pathology of religion.

        Hmm, wonder what political party the Senator belongs to?

      1. Perhaps if the various gung-ho governors and senators had to carry out the executions themselves…

          1. Rich people’s children shouldn’t have to die for their parent’s country. They can hire poor people to do that for them.

          1. You’re not only the person spreading the concept of “depressive realism”–you’re a carrier.

            But, yeah. You really can’t let yourself think about this too much; and you’ll know what I mean when I say, especially as a parent…

            How can we expose our kids to such a rotten world…

            1. Misery, company, etc, etc. 🙂

              I hold out a little hope that the future will look more rational. The younger generations are much less religious.

              Of course there are still Malthusian scenarios to worry about…

  28. America is the only First World country to retain judicial executions, and it’s barbaric and embarrassing.

    Only embarrassing?

    I consider it’s good reason to be ashamed of the USA.

  29. Although there is a rough correlation between low murder and rape rates and absence of CP and LWOP, it is but a correlation, not necessarily a cause.
    It is a bit of a wobbly correlation too: South Africa has one of the highest murder and rape rates in the world, and no CP or LWOP. It is quite an emotional issue and I feel that most of the research is not very objective. There are so many factors/parameters involved that it is virtually impossible to actually know.

    There is also a negative correlation between the spread of internet and rape rates (more internet: less rape, possibly due to easier access to pornography? or just a non-causal correlation?).

    Punishment is -by its very nature- always somewhat cruel, barbaric and ‘inhuman’. Of course there are degrees, we do not have the wheel or quartering anymore (thank G.., no thank Enlightenment!).
    No or a very light punishment is also cruel for the survivors and those close to the victim(s). We are clearly sitting between a rock and a hard place here.

    The best ‘punishment’ would indeed be to ‘cure’. However, lobotomy and castration (the kindest cut of all?), surgical or chemical, are also considered barbaric, inhuman and degrading (a part from controversy about effectiveness). And if the botching of something as simple as an execution is anything to go by, I can’t think of what will happen during lobotomies and castrations 🙁

  30. The general subject of America’s barbaric habit of murdering it’s own citizens is a problem for Americans. However the rotation of the Earth means that the following news has probably emerged in Europe before America :
    The state murder victim was tasered before the execution.

    Clayton Lockett, the death-row inmate who was the subject of a botched execution by the state of Oklahoma, was Tasered by prison staff and had cut his own arm on the day of the failed procedure, according to a timeline released by the state’s corrections chief on Thursday.

    The State Governer, Fallin, appears to have banned further executions :

    “We need to take as long as possible to get the answer right,” she told reporters.

    I suspect a mis-speak – a delightful level of competence for someone with responsibility for other people’s lives – but that implies that Oklahoma will re-allow executions shortly before either the heat death of the universe, or before the Sun goes red giant.
    The Grauniad adds of the “timeline” (presumably it’s witness to the execution talking, “Katie Fretland in Oklahoma City”) :

    The document is notable as much for what it leaves out as for what it reveals: there is no mention of the three minutes in which witnesses saw Lockett thrashing violently on the gurney and attempting to speak, despite having been declared unconscious. Neither does it say anything about what happened in the ten minutes between the procedure being called off and the moment Lockett died.

    The “timeline” document implies the presence of a phlebotomist (“vein cutter”, doing the injections), and at least one doctor who did not succeed (and possibly did not attempt) resuscitation on a patient who’s execution had been cancelled :

    The doctor reported a “faint heartbeat”, and at 6.56pm, Patton [Prison Warden] called off the execution. The timeline does not detail what happened between then and 7.06pm, when Lockett was declared dead.

    The pro-state-murder lobby is going to be calling for the heads (literally) of everyone involved in this utter fiasco. It’s really going to mess up state-murder in America for several whole days!

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