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September 16, 2009

UK advocate saying botched Ohio execution attempt should be US turning point on death penalty

I suspect that yesterday's botched execution attempt here in Ohio likely could become a big national and international story, and this new item from a UK paper confirms my suspicion.  The piece is headlined "The American way of death:A botched execution in Ohio should quicken the end of capital punishment." Here are notable excerpts:

The botched attempted execution in Ohio this week of a murderer should prompt America to join the rest of the developed world in consigning judicial killing to history. There is inadequate evidence that it acts as a deterrent, it ignores the risk of miscarriages of justice and allows no room for repentance or correction. But above all it is a barbarity that stains civilised society....

A one-week reprieve granted by the Governor of Ohio may well be extended indefinitely, partly because it is half a century since any inmate was subjected to more than one execution, and partly because some justices of the US Supreme Court have now begun to wonder if botched lethal injections might not violate the eighth amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishment”. Last year the court upheld the use of lethal injections. But Justice John Paul Stevens, while concurring, said that imposing the death penalty represented “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes”. Other justices are believed to share this view.

As this commentary notes, the Supreme Court back in Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947), actually signed off on the constitutionality of Louisiana making a second attempt at executing a capital defendant after a failed first electrocution effort.  But, as Debby Denno notes in this StandDown post, Resweber can be distinguished in various ways.  And, as we all know, the Eighth Amendment has always been said to evolve so that practices once constitutional (e.g., executing juves or those with retardation) can become unconstitutional.

Related posts on botched Broom execution attempt:

UPDATE:  I see that Andrew Cohen at CBS News has this lengthy piece posted under the headline "Can Ohio Execute the Same Man Twice?". In addition to raising an unintended metaphysical question, the piece makes these points:
The grisly details surrounding Broom's failed execution — which read like an outtake from the movie "The Green Mile" or a transcript from a torture probe — remind us that the United States Supreme Court did not come remotely close last year to fixing the many problems that still surround lethal injection in America. It's true that the Justices upheld Kentucky's lethal injection procedures. But those measures are different from the procedures in place in Ohio, a state that consistently has had problems over the past few years ensuring that its executions are swift and humane.

[I]t would be surreal if Ohio now were able to argue (under Chief Justice Roberts' new standard in Baze) that because it can't find any "feasible" and "readily implementable" alternatives to the current protocols it shouldn't be required to fix its obvious problems.  And I'm just waiting to see if anyone in the Ohio Attorney General's office has the gall to argue to a federal judge that because so many of its recent executions have been excruciatingly long and painful they no longer should be considered "unusual" under the Eighth Amendment.

In the meantime, Broom waits — sore arms and legs and all.  If he is "re-executed" he will become the first man in America since at least 1946 to achieve the dubious distinction, says Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. That's some trivia that neither Ohio nor the United States Supreme Court ought to ignore.

September 16, 2009 at 04:39 PM | Permalink


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One senses a gleeful mobbing around this failure. It should surprise no one that knows, government does nothing well.

I can make my veins collapse by not drinking for a couple of days. This will become known to condemned people who want to embarrass the authorities.

The executioner should be permitted to inject the concoction into the condemned prisoner's heart directly. They can practice on dogs ahead of time. Or get that captive bolt pistol, that slaughterhouse air pressure driven cylinder device seen in No Country for Old Men. Or take out a pistol and shoot the condemned in the head at close range.

These abolitionists and Euro fops say not word one about the 1000's of extrajudicial executions taking place under the forbearance of the lawyer. Why? Because victims generate no government make work jobs nor bring the rent. Only murderers do. They are like precious children to the disgusting left wing criminal lovers.

This blog is so biased in favor of abolition, it is unfair.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 16, 2009 6:39:55 PM

The title of Andrew Cohen's piece is exemplary of the dishonesty and hyperbole typical of the loudest voices on the abolition side.

Perhaps lethal injection isn't the most practical way to carry out an execution, but I find it hard to credit the sincerity of the expressions of shock and outrage from some quarters that not every execution goes without a hitch.

It's perfectly respectable for people to argue that the death penalty is morally wrong and doesn't adequately serve the purposes of punishment. The disingenuous part is when those same people argue that executions should be stopped, not for those reasons, but for the reason that not all of them go off without a hitch.

Posted by: anonymous | Sep 16, 2009 8:22:49 PM

I am not sure that a European holier-than-thou attitude does much to advance the debate; it seems to me to only harden the opinions. Certainly a botched execution is bad but at least we didn't botch an entire empire. See, two can play those silly games.

Posted by: Daniel | Sep 16, 2009 10:15:59 PM

"we didn't botch an entire empire"

Well ... given our record as an empire compared to theirs, I wouldn't be so snarky.

Anyway, people on all sides of any given issue often use an especially problematic event -- even if it is not typical -- to remind people why the practice should be stopped. Let those who have no sin throw the first stone.

So, I find this somewhat kneejerk reaction in other lands predictable and not too notable.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 17, 2009 7:56:08 AM

I suggest a disclosure statement, for this blog, for the extreme left wing doctrinaires in this story. "We oppose the death penalty, and will promote that view, and suppress any opposite argument. Get opposing arguments elsewhere."

The absence of a disclosure statement of one sidedness on the death penalty, is a form of bad faith. One expects balance from an academic and from a journalist. The First Amendment immunizes extreme speech, however journalistic and academics ethics require the presentation of balanced facts. The omission of opposing facts is a form of lying. It is called a Kissinger lie. Kissinger presented a review of State Department hijinks for the quarter to the Congressional oversight committee. Much later, he was asked why he did not bring up the little matter of the massive carpet bombing of Cambodia during that time. "They didn't ask."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 17, 2009 8:51:42 AM

There is a really good, recent book about whom I believe is the last person to be "re-executed." It's called "The Execution of Willie Francis" by Gilbert King. You can read about the book at this website: http://www.williefrancis.com/html/enter.html. I highly recommend it. I don't think the book really took a position on the death penalty as a form of punishment. It's more about the background of the case and the legal battle over the re-execution.

Posted by: JK | Sep 17, 2009 10:25:34 AM

The screw up simply spotlights the barbarity underlying state-sanctioned killings normally disguised as soporific exercises in sleep inducement. I therefore don't agree with anonymous that the UK publication's tack marks a departure from the moral arguments against the practice.

But Joe is right about the U.S. being poorly positioned for a my-empire-is-morally-superior-to-yours argument with the Brits.

Posted by: John K | Sep 17, 2009 11:24:58 AM

"normally disguised as soporific exercises in sleep inducement"

I'm unaware of any such disguising.

Posted by: anonymous | Sep 17, 2009 11:40:12 AM

On normative questions of criminal justice policy, it's always good to consult Anton Chigurh.

Posted by: Michael Drake | Sep 17, 2009 12:33:56 PM

Put another way, anonymous, executions are supposed to be akin to taking old Fido to the vet to be humanely "put to sleep."

But of course it's hard to square that imagery with the spectre of repeatedly stabbing with large-bore needles a human being strapped to a guerney in a fruitless two-hour quest for a suitable blood vein.

Posted by: John K | Sep 17, 2009 6:54:19 PM

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