Botched Execution Opens New Debate on Capital Punishment

ExecutionCapital punishment has been around since the beginning of time. Early executions were entertainment for townspeople who would rush to the squares to watch the lynchings. However, as times change so do opinions and in turn laws. Over the last 100 years legislators have created laws limiting the use and means for exercising such punishments. The botched Oklahoma execution opens old wounds for those who are for and against the punishment and sparking new debate on ending the practice for good.

Today courts reserve capital punishment for the worst of the worst crimes; some states have completely abolished executions altogether. Many believe that no crime calls for such action by our justice system. As such punishment reserves itself for murderers, many states feel that those murders alone are not stringent enough to award such punishment. Most states have designed laws that require a crime worthy of the death penalty must have a secondary crime attached such as rape, kidnapping, or robbery.

Early on in history the only consideration for how such punishment would be carried out was what would be the swiftest action possible for a successful death sentence. Public executions were once thought to deter criminals from such heinous acts, however evidence proves that capital punishment does not deter such crimes. Today’s legislators use the utmost caution when creating laws on how to carrying out the death penalty in humane and pain-free ways. Some lawmakers have long argued that todays executions were in fact more humane than life in prison. Many wonder why the punishment is more humane than the acts murderers carry out to receive such punishment.

Did the criminal receiving the punishment give the same consideration to their victims? With the murders and rapes that paper our landscape all over the country did any of the victims die peacefully? Did they get to lay down on a table, speak final words to their loved ones they so carefully had chosen, and fall asleep? Clayton Lockett didn’t afford the same leniency to 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman when he beat her monstrously, shot her then buried her alive in her own grave? Friends and family of Neiman have no remorse for the man who suffered for a mere 30 minutes compared to the hours of hell her life ended in. Lockett’s botched execution reopens the debate on capital punishment for very different reasons, yet was this really an unsuccessful death sentence? The idea was to kill him and in the end he is dead, so how was this execution botched? State authorities even tried to revive Lockett when he went into cardiac arrest, but why? Would that not have drawn out a more inhumane punishment, if indeed that was what they were trying to prevent?

The bigger question for capital punishment is the overwhelming and growing proof that many human beings have sat on death row for decades only to have been proven innocent. The numbers also lend to the argument that many of those already executed may have indeed been innocent themselves. Records show that an overwhelming number of those on death row are people of color, also illustrating the disparity in the sentencing laws. Countries all over the world have outlawed the practice because of such issues. Even in Rome where families used to view public executions in the Coliseum where lions would tear the flesh from supposed criminals as a form of entertainment the law is no longer in existence. Such changes have led to the fiascos we are now seeing in the United States. For decades countries that have outlawed the punishment of death have refused to extradite criminals back to the US if the courts refuse to wave capital punishment for sentencing. In the last few years they have utilized more extreme measures to ensure that the United States ends the practice all together.

The US manufacturer, Hospira, Inc., quit making the drugs used by criminal justice systems leaving officials to look over seas to secure the lethal concoction used for ending lives. So when all other methods failed to halt executions in the US a Danish pharmaceutical company, Lundbeck, Inc., decided to take action and sent letters refusing to sell the drugs to the US for use in capital punishment. States running on short supply went into overdrive to find other sources for the needed drugs to put their prisoners to death. In some cases states began illegally purchasing and importing experimental drugs from secret facilities in Europe and the UK. Such experimental drugs, used several times over the last two years, have all ended in botched and in some cases disturbingly repulsive executions. Some argue that such outrageous experiences have been well deserved for the convicted criminals. However it does not negate the idea that so many of those on death row may very well be innocent. Many ignore the fact that those on death row still survive for decades living off the system with their own private cell, free food, and a last meal that the victims were never afforded by their attackers.

If you change the perspective on death penalty verses life in prison without the possibility of parole would minds change? Consider the case of Jeffrey Dahmer who murdered, mutilated, and cannibalized 17 known victims. Few would argue that the death penalty would be just in his case, but his state had outlawed the death penalty leaving him to serve 15 consecutive life sentences, Dahmer would never see the outside world again. Instead he was justly put into general population where from day one experienced the pain and agony he put upon his victims. He suffered nearly every day with beatings leaving him within an inch of life. If he had been on death row he would have lived peacefully for a minimum of 20 years and all his necessities would be provided for the duration of his life. Instead Dahmer lived the rest of his days in fear, pain, and agony which some argue is the only just punishment for the crimes he committed. On November 28, 1994 Dahmer was brutally murdered in prison by fellow prisoners just two and a half years after entering prison. Family members of the victims did not shed a tear for his death. No one can argue that he did not deserve to spend the rest of his life in prison, and proponents of the death penalty were exuberant that Dahmer did not live off the taxpayer’s dime for decades.

What is a greater deterrent of such crimes? Charles Mansion as written that he purposely carried out his crimes in hopes of being put in prison so the rest of his life he would be cared for. Criminalists argue that those with the capacity to act with such blatant disregard of human life could not be deterred from carrying out such crimes. Proof by the rising acts of murder leave many to believe that the rising costs of executions will only get steeper. The new debate on capital punishment will only exasperate the rash of botched executions we can expect will continue unless the US comes to terms with the changing times.

Opinion by Kimberly Beller

The Washington Post
Crime Library

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