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May 2, 2014

Other than perhaps in Oklahoma, will this week's ugly execution change any death penalty dynamics?

Throughout this week there has been plenty of old and new media attention given to the ugly execution that was completed in Oklahoma Tuesday night.  And Oklahoma official will likely need a number of months to sort out everything before getting its machinery of death up and running again.  But outside of Oklahoma, does anyone believe that yet another ugly lethal injection is likely to change, in any major way, the standard modern policy and litigation dynamics that now surround the administration of capital punishment in the United States?

The Oklahoma ugliness did force a few federal officials — the President and the US Senators from  Oklahoma — to finally say something about lethal injection practices that have been long discussed and litigated in state and federal courts nationwide.  But comments by federal officials, as well as those by state officials in Oklahoma and elsewhere, as well as by the well-known advocates in the pro- and anti-death penalty camps, seem just like another round of the usual reactions to the usual claims and concerns that arise whenever a lethal injection execution fails to go smoothly.

Lots of folks who follow these issues closely (in the pro- and anti-death penalty camps) have talked about states exploring other execution methods, but I have seen little serious discussion of that possibility among lawmakers even in the wake of the Oklahoma ugliness.  And though abolitionists are sure to use this incident as one more talking point to advocate formal repeal of the death penalty in those states that rarely execute, there is little evidence that those states which remain eager to carry out death sentences see what happened in Oklahoma as a reason to slow down the march of convicted murderers to execution chambers.

Perhaps I have grown too cynical and jaded about the state and fate of modern death penalty debates.  But even details of the ugly Oklahoma execution are still emerging, this is already feeling like old and tired news to me.  Are my instincts here wrong, dear readers?

Some recent related posts:

UPDATE So only a matter of hours after I wrote this post, the President of the United States decided to prove me wrong.  Specifically, as this Reuters report and headline highlights, it appears that Attorney General Eric Holder has a new assignment from his boss because of the ugliness in OK: "Obama to have attorney general look into botched execution in Oklahoma." Here are the details:

President Barack Obama on Friday said the botched execution of a murderer in Oklahoma raises questions about the death penalty in the United States and he will ask the U.S. attorney general to look into the situation. "What happened in Oklahoma is deeply troubling," he said....

Obama cited uneven application of the death penalty in the United States, including racial bias and cases in which murder convictions were later overturned, as grounds for further study on the issue. "And this situation in Oklahoma just highlights some of the significant problems," he said at a news conference.

"I'll be discussing with (Attorney General) Eric Holder and others to get me an analysis of what steps have been taken - not just in this particular instance but more broadly - in this area," he said. "I think we do have to, as a society, ask ourselves some difficult and profound questions around these issues."

May 2, 2014 at 11:53 AM | Permalink


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I don't know whether your instincts are right or wrong, but the President of the United States just weighed in.

Posted by: one | May 2, 2014 3:42:48 PM

Awww, so Eric "Marc Rich" Holder is going to look into the Oklahoma execution. Soooo, the Administration is going to investigate the execution of a murderer with greater zeal than it looked into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.

Posted by: federalist | May 2, 2014 9:37:40 PM

If you are going to kill a human then do it with dignity. Do not taze them to knock down their resistance, the tie them to a flat gurney, then stick a huge needle in their balls and inject poison.
Instead: tie the human to a pole, six rifles aim at the head and fire at the same time. Bang. It is over. Kill a human with dignity. What is wrong with that?

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 2, 2014 10:38:09 PM

I am confused as to exactly what role DOJ and Eric Holder have here. It was a botched state execution caused by a missed vein. The state is investigating and re-examining its protocol. There is no role for DOJ in this state matter.

Posted by: Hmm... | May 2, 2014 11:09:14 PM

The President and Eric Holder are black racists. The prisoner was black, thus the zealotry and the all out lawyer gotcha.

Both the exoneration rate and botched executions have been addressed repeatedly.

1) Stop all other human activities such as transportation or medicine, until they are perfect, too. That includes walking, since hundreds of pedestrian a year are killed with due process. So the error rate argument is in bad faith, and hypocritical. In fact, let's stop all lawyer procedures until they are 100% perfected.

2) End all tort immunities, especially those of judges, prosecutors. Impeach all Supreme Court Justices who vote to overturn such legislation.

3) Not only should all executions proceed to death, since however botched, the death will be less painful and horrifying than the deaths of 90% of us. There is nothing in the Eighth Amendment defining cruelty or unusualness. So all decisions are the expression of the subjective feelings of pro-criminal lawyers on the Supreme Court, less valid than those of anyone else. Indeed, the death penalty is not even a punishment covered by the Eighth Amendment, because it ends all behavior, and not just one bad behavior as punishment should. The death penalty is an expulsion.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 3, 2014 5:04:53 AM

It may change the dynamics a little in Ohio, where Dennis McGuire was executed badly. Arthur Tyler just received clemency and a majority of the Board recommended his immediate release. There are a lot of interesting factors all comming into play at once that could impact the future administration of the penalty here.

Posted by: Cleveland Attorney | May 3, 2014 9:08:16 AM

Kasich is such a wuss.

Posted by: federalist | May 3, 2014 11:09:41 AM

Maybe some states could envision a bullet in the back of the head, which enables moreover an easy salvage of the organs.

Posted by: visitor | May 3, 2014 1:21:38 PM

Visitor: I think it more dignified to shoot them from the front. Let them see it coming. No blind fold. Let the public come and watch. We are doing it in the name of the people.

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 5, 2014 1:01:54 AM

"It may change the dynamics a little in Ohio, where Dennis McGuire was executed badly. Arthur Tyler just received clemency and a majority of the Board recommended his immediate release. There are a lot of interesting factors all comming into play at once"

-- Strangely enough, none of these "interesting factors" have to do with guilt for
the crime of aggravated murder.
-- Similarly sufficiently strange, no meaningful case for the innocence or of McGuire
or Tyler has been realised.

Posted by: Adamakis | May 5, 2014 1:24:41 PM

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