Well, this is horrifying:
Ohio’s new lethal injection system is akin to burning inmates at the stake or burying them alive, say federal defense lawyers rushing to stop the state’s first execution in three years.
Ohio’s three-drug method, announced Oct. 3, is worse than a similar procedure used years ago, and multiple problems remain with the way the state prepares and carries out executions, federal public defenders said in a Wednesday court filing. (Cincinnati.com)
Apparently Ohio has developed a new, not better way of killing people. This seems relevant, as recent polls have shown that for the first time in over four decades, less than half of Americans support the death penalty.
From Pew Research:
Only about half of Americans (49%) now favor the death penalty for people convicted of murder, while 42% oppose it. Support has dropped 7 percentage points since March 2015, from 56%. Public support for capital punishment peaked in the mid-1990s, when eight-in-ten Americans (80% in 1994) favored the death penalty and fewer than two-in-ten were opposed (16%). Opposition to the death penalty is now the highest it has been since 1972.
These new polls, and Ohio’s new lethal injection system, come hot on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court agreeing to review the appeals for two different death penalty cases. One is centered on the role race plays in those sentenced to death, the other on the appropriate IQ threshold for state sanctioned murder.
From 2007 to 2012, according to Amnesty International, the United States ranked Fifth globally in executions. China came in No. 1 with unspecified “thousands” of executions. Next up was Iran, with 1,663. Taking the bronze, Saudi Arabia, with 423. Next up, Iraq at 256. And then, at No. 5, USA, USA, with 220.
Filling out the Top Ten behind the U.S. were, in order, Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam and Libya.
Of the countries worldwide considered to be industrialized, just four countries continue to perform capital punishment: the United States, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. The European Union has abolished the death penalty.
The United States was the only country in North and South America to carry out executions in 2015.
As of August 2016, of the 195 independent states that are members of the United Nations or have UN observer status, 56 retain the death penalty in both law and practice, while 31 have abolished it de facto (as in, no executions have been carried out in the last 10 years and none are likely to be carried out again). Six have abolished it except in the case of exceptional circumstances, while 102 have abolished it for all crimes.
And then there’s Ohio.
The filing attacks the first drug in that process — midazolam, meant to sedate inmates — as unlikely to relieve an inmate’s pain. The drug was used in problematic executions in Arizona and Ohio in 2014. But the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the use of midazolam in executions in a case out of Oklahoma.
According to the filing, because midazolam is not a barbiturate and cannot relieve pain, inmates are likely to experience “severe physical pain,” mental suffering and anguish,
As a result, “such an execution would be inhuman and barbarous, akin in its level of pain and suffering to being buried alive, burning at the stake, and other primitive methods long since abandoned by civilized society,” the filing said.
Ohio resumed putting inmates to death in 1999, and then the case of Dennis McGuire happened, where in January of 2014, McGuire “snorted and gasped” for 26 minutes before being dispatched from existence.
The state used a 2-drug method with McGuire, beginning with midazolam, but then discontinued it. Afterward, Ohio struggled for years to find new supplies of drugs, which have been placed off limits for executions by drug makers.
Now the prisons agency says it will use midazolam; rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes the inmate; and potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
Once upon a yesteryear, I argued loudly against capital punishment. That was back in the go-go 90s when support for the death penalty amongst Americans was over 80 percent.
Of course, when one argues against the death penalty, one is treated to all manner of brutal hypothetical about the murder of one’s loved ones in the traditional personal/emotional appeal. But I, as an individual, with wrathful desire in extreme circumstance, am not the state.
The idea of state, of country, goes far beyond the whims of personal vengeance, by necessity. And part and parcel of that is the fact, as is well-known, that the death penalty does not deter.
So without the element of determent, what have we got? Society’s blood vengeance upon one of its members. And though perhaps society’s anger is often justified, because some people do commit truly atrocious crimes, such vengeance merely compounds the crime.
We have two remaining constructions to cover with regard to the death penalty argument: The case in which a convicted murderer is released from prison only to kill again, and the case in which a wrongly convicted person is put to death.
The first case can be solved quite simply with a life sentence; the second – which goes a bit beyond a simple miscarriage of justice – cannot be rectified. According to the Innocence Project, newly available DNA evidence has allowed the exoneration and release of more than 17 death row inmates since 1992 in the United States.
But the justice system is quirky, to say the least of it, and often there are strict timeframe restraints on the exculpatory power of such DNA evidence, leading to its being denied for introduction upon appeal, or simply unavailable in the first place.
Nevertheless, according to the Northwestern University School of Law, at least 39 executions are claimed to have been carried out in the U.S. in the face of evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt.
Another argument to be made is that the death penalty is in violation of the Eight Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause. While I personally believe this to be the case, the U.S. Supreme Court has not seen fit to agree with me through the history of our Republic thus far.
So that leaves it up to U.S. Congress to take our country out of the barbaric company of totalitarian dictatorships, banana republics and Islamic despotisms throughout the world carrying out executions.
But in the meantime, perhaps Ohio might do well to stop proving my point about that whole cruel and unusual business. And if Ohio’s political leaders want to continue a 2014 freeze on public policy in our state, may I humbly recommend they let the Renewable Energy Portfolio thaw and keep the death penalty on ice.
D.C. DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure. He has also written for Government Executive’s RouteFifty.com, the National Journal’s The Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He is the Associate Editor of The Athens NEWS in Athens, Ohio. DeWitt can be found on Facebook and Twitter @DC_DeWitt.