So now the state of Kentucky is looking for a new way to kill its death row inmates.
A few weeks ago the state decided it would, in the words of the Associated Press (AP), “abandon its current two-drug protocol in place for executing prisoners by lethal injection.”
It was a decision that didn’t take a genius to make.
As seen by recent torturous events in Texas and Oklahoma, lethal injection wasn’t working.
Death penalty opponents received a horrible addition to their arguments earlier this year when the states of Oklahoma and Arizona attempted to kill two of their prisoners. They were ultimately successful, if you want to call it that, in that the men died.
But their deaths, by any measure, certainly fit the criteria for “cruel and unusual” punishment. Those executions received a great deal of national attention beyond the usual news stories that appear whenever a state exercises capital punishment. They received extra attention because of their atrocious nature, the pure barbarism of the acts themselves.
In April of 2014, Clayton Lockett was put to death by lethal injection in Oklahoma — despite the repeated warnings from defense attorneys about the nature of their so-called “execution protocol.” They used a drug that would allegedly paralyze Lockett; then they applied others that were supposed to kill him.
Only it didn’t work that way. They looked for a usable vein for about an hour before finding one in Lockett’s groin, gave him the sedative, waited a while and then declared that he was unconscious so it was okay to kill him.
But he wasn’t unconscious. The two drugs used in the botched execution were known to cause what the AP referred to as “excruciating pain” if the person on the receiving end was conscious. Three minutes after those painful drugs were injected into his system, Lockett began trying to lift his head and was said by witnesses to be “clenching his teeth.” At that time, prison officials lowered the blinds to prevent those witnesses from seeing what was happening, and 15 minutes later, reporters said, witnesses were ordered to leave the room.
Twenty minutes after the first drugs were administered, the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections halted the execution. But 43 minutes after all the travesty had begun, Lockett saved Oklahoma the trouble of trying it again and died of an apparent heart attack while he was still in the execution chamber.
Then three months later on July 23, the state of Arizona performed a lethal injection execution of Joseph R. Wood. Witnesses said that Wood repeatedly gasped for air for more than an hour and a half before he was pronounced dead. A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said he was simply asleep and snoring. One reporter from the Arizona Republic newspaper,
Michael Kiefer, who witnessed the “administration of justice,” said he counted 640 gasps from Wood before the convict finally died.
There are a number of other similar accounts available on the internet — admittedly most of them are at anti-death penalty sites — that chronicle botched attempts at state-sanctioned killing. There have been so many that the tide of public opinion is obviously swinging in the direction of outlawing capital punishment and replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Many people would consider the latter sentence the more harsh of the two.
Whatever the reason, a Gallup poll released in October showed that 63 percent of the public still expresses support for the death penalty, but noted that the support “has rapidly eroded over the last 20 years.”
Father Patrick Delahanty, chair of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said in a news release earlier this fall that the Gallup poll’s results represent a clear movement away from the death penalty, and noted that the movement “is a national trend.”
The fact that “six states in the past seven years have abandoned its use and replaced it with a sentence of life in prison without parole is evidence of that trend,” he said in the release. He also noted that since 2010 in Kentucky, jurors and judges have rejected the death penalty in every case in which it was sought, with one exception.
The next session of the Kentucky General Assembly has a chance to let the Commonwealth join in this movement away from state-sanctioned killing and toward common sense. They have the chance to join Pope Francis, who earlier this year called for the abolition of the death penalty.
“All Christians and people of good will,” the pope said, “are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”
Abolish the death penalty. It’s going to happen some day — let’s make it sooner rather than later.