Executing Problems

July 18, 2013

Late last month, Texas earned the ignoble status of having executed 500 inmates since 1982 (with a couple of them executed despite serious questions about the quilt of the executed), making the "Lone Star State" responsible for about 40 percent of all executions in the U.S. since the death penalty was reestablished in 1976. Since that morbid milestone, news on the death penalty front continues to raise serious moral questions about the continuing practice of capital punishment in the U.S. After pressure from anti-death penalty activists, many European suppliers of drugs used for lethal injections stopped shipping to the U.S., which has caused shortages for several states. Rather than allowing this to spark moral reconsideration of the death penalty, some states are instead taking drastic measures so they can continue killing people. For instance, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Republican, said earlier this month that the state may need to bring back the gas chamber for executions if more lethal injection drugs cannot be obtained. The "Show Me State" has not used the gas chamber since 1968 - and no state has since 1999 - and does not even have any working gas chambers. Missouri has, however, executed 68 people since 1989, making it the state with the fifth most executions since 1976. Since the gas chamber is a painful way to kill someone - and since it brings to mind the Holocaust - it seems highly unlikely the state will actually try it. But since it is one of two forms of capital punishment allowed in the state law, it would be good if legislators banned the gas chamber (if not the death penalty altogether). Koster probably is only referencing the gas chamber in hopes of scaring the courts from ruling against the state for its currently untested batch of lethal injection drugs, which are being challenged in a lawsuit. While the lawsuit is being considered, Missouri cannot execute anyone (and their last three batches of drugs could expire during the legal fight).

Meanwhile, Georgia is facing similar problems. The state, which has executed 53 people since 1983 (giving it the seventh highest execution count since 1976), has run out of its drugs and is trying to secretly find others. The state had planned to execute an inmate on Monday despite experts saying he is mentally handicapped. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that mentally-handicapped persons could not be executed, it left it to the states to define who met that standard. The "Peach State" created the harshest standard in the nation, and is essentially refusing to follow the Supreme Court's ruling. The scheduled execution did not occur on Monday, however, because of a stay of execution granted to allow a legal challenge to Georgia's lethal injection drugs. The state passed a law to cover the process in secrecy as they get someone to concoct drugs to use for the execution. Although it is still possible a higher court will allow the execution to proceed, hopefully the courts will not allow such unaccountable secrecy involving unapproved drug creations. Although it is sad to see states like Missouri and Georgia taking such efforts to make the death penalty even more barbaric, hopefully their efforts will help raise the moral consciousness of more people.

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