In Oklahoma the attorney general asked for a stay of executions as the state prepared to kill citizens Richard Glossip and Benjamin Cole. A few hours after the stay was granted, Gov. Mary Fallin claimed confidence in the state’s ability to carry out the lethal injection. Though it’s possible she was unaware of the mix-up between the potassium chloride and the potassium acetate received, one has to wonder if knowing would have made a difference.
Where capital punishment is concerned it often seems media scrutiny is the only thing that ever gives state officials pause. Otherwise, anything goes. This is why NC legislators passed HB 774, the Restoring Proper Justice Act to hide the names of drugs used in the lethal injection and protect their source. So if a mix-up occurs like it did in Oklahoma, or a compounding company sends a bad batch, the public will never know.
In an effort to make executing citizens a more socially palatable exercise in power, the death penalty was medicalized with the lethal injection. One problem that arose in NC is the state Constitution required the presence of a doctor during an execution – a professional sworn to protect the sanctity of human life. With the passing of HB 774 the administration of the lethal injection has been pawned off on undertrained prison staff and removed the need for a doctor to be present.
The drugs being used placed suppliers in a precarious position: supply the state with small quantities of drugs not intended for use in executions (there is no drug designed with the express purpose of being used in an execution) or deny them. The Restoring Proper Justice Act removes this dilemma and allows profit to prevail where ethics fail.
In the end the chemical cocktail used in the lethal injection is poorly mixed and of unknown make and origin. The entire procedure – from the senseless swipe of an alcohol pad on the inside of the elbow or wrist or groin, to the declaration of death – takes longer than a bullet, noose, guillotine, electric chair and gas chamber combined. This assumes it’s not botched, in which case the condemned will writhe and gasp in agony before a dozen witnesses. That part will be seen by a select group unlikely to report what occurred. Unless there is an objective journalist in the room.
Patrick Gannon wrote the Op-Ed piece “Time for a Serious Death Penalty Talk”, quoting Pope Francis’ comments about abolishing the death penalty in conjunction with pro-life abortion views. Gannon also discussed how Rep Jon Hardister of Greensboro, NC and Nebraska state Sen Colby Coash held a joint news conference to explain why conservative Republicans should oppose the death penalty. Coash, who led the repeal of Nebraska’s death penalty, related all of the financial benefits his state has reaped since earlier this year. For Republicans Coash believes capital punishment is incompatible not just with the right to life, it’s incompatible with fiscally responsible conservatism.
I should have expected the Oct 7 article “Refuting death penalty claims”. In it Rep Paul Stam attemps to tear down Gannon’s article by stating the writer used “familiar arguments against the death penalty”. What Stam fails to admit is Gannon’s claims are grounded in fact, whereas his own are not. Below are Rep. Stam’s claims and my refutations.
Claim: Opposition to abortion doesn’t require opposition to capital punishment because a fetus is innocent and citizens convicted of murder are not.
It’s difficult to imagine a more misguided sense of moral entitlement than an individual’s belief he or she has a right to determine who deserves life and death. The pope’s message was straightforward – all life is sacred. Stam is correct in saying death row prisoners have been convicted by a jury and had their cases reviewed by judges who look for errors over the course of decades. However, this doesn’t give lawmakers the right or need to take the lives of citizens who have been incapacitated in prison for many years. At this point carrying out further punishment becomes an issue of vengeance – not justice.
Claim: “Much of the expense results from obstruction by opponents of the death penalty”. The “obstruction” referred to is a death row prisoner’s legal right to challenges his or her sentence and conviction, a process guaranteed by the US Constitution and NC Constitution. Just as the law allows the state to kill people convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death so too does it give them a chance to defend themselves. The real obstruction results from ineffective defense counsel, prosecutor misconduct, jury misconduct, hidden or misplaced exculpatory evidence, and a host of other problems such as bills that hide what should be public information about the lethal injection. The appellate process, however convoluted it appears, accounts for a reversal rate of 71-74% of the death sentences in NC since 1977, all because of those “obstructions”.
Claim:” Not a single North Carolina execution had any colorable claim to innocence.” This statement was in response to the fact there have been 8 acquittals on NC’s death row in the last 15 years. This equals one case of innocence per four executions. Thankfully, the obstructed court system has had executions on hold since 2006, because five of the acquittals have occurred during that time. Henry McCollum, whose case was used by the Republican party to help get the Racial Justice Act in 2010, is the most recent exoneree. He spent 30 years on death row before the Innocence Inquiry Commission investigated his case in conjunction with Leon Brown’s case. Neither brother had anything to do with the rape and murder of 11 year old Sabrina Buie and were ultimately pardoned by Gov McCrory. Had executions been in full swing Henry McCollum would be dead, his “colorable claim to innocence” a moot point.
Claim: There are dozens of peer-reviewed academic studies showing a clear deterrent effect for a death penalty that is actually applied.” No academic study is needed or can dispute the fact there have been fewer murders in NC since executions have been on hold. One need only look to the US Department of Justice for actual statistics rather than obscure, unnamed academic studies. The death penalty is applied frequently in Ohio and Texas, yet Cleveland and Dallas have two of the highest murder rates in the US. Executions incite murder, they don’t deter it.
Claim: “Whether a person is more likely to repent and be redeemed when facing life in prison or when facing imminent execution is ultimately unknowable. Intuitively, I would think the latter is more likely.” One does not become saved simply because there is no other choice and death is imminent – it takes time, maturity, experience and the grace of God. Redemption is measured by a rehabilitated life, which is the original purpose behind the penitentiary. Determining any prisoner’s sincerity is simple: look at their life in prison, interview staff who interact with the individual, and ask him or her personally: Are you the same person you were twenty years ago? Would you make the same choices? The opportunity to reflect, repent, and educate one’s self in prison is an often overlooked element of incarceration, but one that should be fostered rather than snuffed out.
The death penalty is an excessive indulgence in a bygone era where state power was displayed to purpose. This is the 21st century and the criminal justice system must evolve if it is to be effective. Capital punishment has reached the end of its usefulness as a way of demonstrating the state’s control. Life without parole is a sufficient punishment for the crime of murder. One would hope that given enough time and opportunity we can elect NC legislators who feel the same way.
News & Observer, newsobserver.com
“Time for a serious death penalty talk” by Patrick Gannon. Oct 2, 2015.
“After drug mix-up, AG asks to delay all executions” by Associated Press. Oct 2, 2015.
“Refuting death penalty claims” by Rep Paul Stam. Oct 7, 2015.