Lethal injection has been suspended in the state of Ohio by Federal Judge Gregory Frost, and is stirring controversy. Cruel and unusual punishment is in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America. The “stay of execution” came as a result of the devastating effect that a drug cocktail had during the execution death of Dennis McGuire. Judge Frost said that there needs to be new execution protocol which will require the need for discovery and necessary preparations before adoption and implementation are garnered. The stay will be lifted on August 15 after lawmakers have had the opportunity to haggle over options for protocol. Reprieves for execution were quickly granted to Ronald Phillips and William Montgomery by Governor John Kasich.
Judge Frost ordered the moratorium after considering the effects that the two-drug combination had on the prolonged death of Dennis McGuire in January. McGuire had raped and murdered a pregnant Preble County woman, for which he received a capital sentence. He was the first inmate to receive the new two-drug combination. Witnesses described him as gasping for breath, loudly choking, and clenching his body, while uttering that he could feel his whole body burning. Twenty-five minutes later, he was dead. State prison officials reported a different story, saying he experienced no distress or air hunger and was asleep. Judge Frost ordered a statement from the prison, but the spokesperson for the prison declined comment.
After that execution, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction disclosed that it would continue to use the same drug cocktail that had been administered to McGuire, only in a larger dosage. This disclosure prompted Judge Frost to issue the “stay of execution.” There is no scientific or clinical efficacy that a larger dose would deliver a more merciful death. Such procedures could be subject to FDA approval.
The surviving McGuire family has a lawsuit pending against the state of Ohio. Jon Paul Rion is an attorney representing the family, and agrees that the moratorium is moving this issue in the right direction so as to stop cruel and unusual punishment. Rion said on behalf of the McGuire family that the use of therapeutic drugs for non-therapeutic purposes was of fundamental concern. This recent “stay of execution” to suspend lethal injection by the judge in Ohio is stirring controversy.
Another recently botched execution took place in Oklahoma. Clayton Derrell Lockett was executed Tuesday evening in what was described as an agonizing spectacle, and deemed to be one of the most gruesome of executions since the 19th century. The procedure began at 6:23 pm. The doctor administered the first drug, which was identified as the sedative midozolam, and pronounced Lockett unconscious 10 minutes later. The second drug administered was a paralytic to prevent respiration, followed by a third drug to stop the heart, potassium chloride. Lockett displayed multiple violent convulsions. While obviously writhing in pain, he was calling out “Oh, man,” repeatedly as his head and chest rose up and down several times. As witnesses looked on, prison officials pulled the curtain and Robert Patton, director of the Corrections Department, stopped the execution, saying that a vein had collapsed. Although prison officials state that a collapsed vein led to the prolonged suffering and subsequent heart attack of Lockett, critics believe that it was the new drug cocktail itself that failed to work as expected.
Judge Frost’s decision to set this “stay of execution” is the most recent event in what seems to be a national debate regarding capital punishment. Thirty-two states are under scrutiny for having had multiple executions via lethal injection go wrong. In times past, pentobarbital was the drug of choice, but manufacturers now refuse to sell this drug for execution, nor do they want their name associated with the practice. These cruel deaths have caught the global attention of what was already considered a condemned and controversial practice. The European Union, in 2011, cited its anti-torture regulation and halted shipment to the United States of any drug that would be used in lethal injections.
The Supreme Court had reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Its use peaked in 1999, but fewer states are following through with it. In the past year alone, six states have stopped enforcing the practice of penalty by death. Just last week, Tennessee reauthorized the use of the electric chair and has been the only state to do so. Other states are questioning whether they should bring back firing squads. States have said that they have condemned criminals to the gallows, used lethal gas, electrocution, firing squads and now deadly chemicals. This is gruesome, but there will never be a method to find out how much suffering these gentlemen actually endure and if it was cruel and unusual. This will have to wait until the state in question declares that the death penalty does, in fact, violate the constitution under the Eighth Amendment.
Government seeks to display the image of highly efficient, controlled, and dignified executions, only to later elicit a shock wave of horror for an execution gone wrong, not just for the individual, but for the family and for the nation. History continues to teach lessons on error, such as when the innocent are put to death. Americans are now asking if the entire system is worth the risk of executing the innocent in order to maintain the death penalty. Americans have spoken that executing the innocent damages moral values and compromises constitutional commitments.
Another issue on the table has been brought to light by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Florida. The law in Florida is saying that anyone with a low IQ “qualifies” to be put to death. Judge Kennedy argued that IQ is based on a range, but does not fully present evidence to the degree of intellectual disability. Justice Kennedy commented that imposing the death penalty is the “gravest sentence” our society can give. Attorney Eric Pinkard, said that the court needs to recognize that disability is not a number, but a condition. Florida then ruled that the consideration had been a fundamental misunderstanding, according to general counsel Nathalie Gilfoyle.
Global and national debate will continue. States will be reviewing what is moral and constitutional. Questions stand as to whether capital punishment can be extended without cruelly assaulting human dignity, which is rightly condemned by the Constitution of the United States of America. Since Judge Frost enstated a “stay of execution,” Ohio will have to wait as lawmakers debate the controversy as to whether a proven method for lethal injection can be found as suitable and acceptable.
Option by Jill Boyer-Adriance