Thursday, July 24, 2014

Arizona Inmate Executed: Can the Death Penalty be Rehabilitated?

We've discussed the problems with the death penalty before here and here and here. Another problem with the death penalty is that in part because of increasing national and worldwide moral objections to the medicalization of executions, there are shortages of the various chemicals needed to literally put a man to sleep. And obviously there is no ability to, well not in this country anyway, to test in advance the chemical cocktail used in executions. This leads to "botched" executions. That is "botched" in the sense that the condemned man (and it's usually a man) did not die either quickly or painlessly. Now while if I were related to someone who had been murdered, I'm not sure that I would be all that bothered by the person who did it having some suffering before they died, that's not what our justice system is designed to do. The State carries out sentencing in the name of the People, not as private vengeance and retribution. There are various sentences, approved by the People and their Representatives, that are supposed to deter, to punish and in some cases to rehabilitate the convicted criminal. The sentences are not supposed to visit upon the convicted criminal the same evil and horror that he doled out. In many cases that would be not only immoral but impossible. If someone has raped and killed your child most people would agree that the State's proper response should not be to send someone to the convict's house to rape and murder his child. That's retribution but it's not justice. Similarly if someone has tortured and murdered someone and been sentenced to death, is it cruel and unusual punishment if his execution is slow, drawn out and painful instead of swift, certain and painless?

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona inmate took almost two hours to die by lethal injection on Wednesday and his lawyers said he "gasped and snorted" before succumbing in the latest botched execution to raise questions about the death penalty in the United States. The execution of convicted double murderer Joseph Wood began at 1:52 p.m. at a state prison complex, and the 55-year-old was pronounced dead just shy of two hours later at 3:49 p.m., the Arizona attorney general's office said.

During that time, his lawyers filed an unsuccessful emergency appeal to multiple federal courts that sought to have the execution halted and their client given life-saving medical treatment. The appeal, which said the procedure violated his constitutional right to be executed without suffering cruel and unusual punishment, was denied by Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court. "He gasped and struggled to breathe for about an hour and 40 minutes," said one of Wood's attorneys, Dale Baich. "Arizona appears to have joined several other states who have been responsible for an entirely preventable horror: a bungled execution. The public should hold its officials responsible."

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer expressed concern over how long the procedure took and ordered the state's Department of Corrections to conduct a full review, but said justice had been done and that the execution was lawful. "One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer," the Republican governor said in a statement.

"This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims, and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family."

Joseph Wood, 55 at the time of his death, carried out the double murder in August 1989 when he shot his former partner Debbie Dietz and her father Gene at their family-run car body shop in Tuscon, Arizona. Wood, who was said to have assaulted Debbie during their relationship, walked into Dietz and Sons Auto Paint and Body Shop and shot 55-year-old Gene in the chest.

Then, as a desperate Debbie tried to phone for help, Wood grabbed her round the neck. The Arizona Daily Star reports that witnesses heard him tell her "I told you I was going to do it. I love you. I have to kill you, b****" before also shooting the 29-year-old fatally in the chest. When police arrived Wood turned his gun on officers, prompting them to open fire and shoot him nine times.

So do you think that this execution in Arizona is just a case of the karmic wheel of justice doing what it's supposed to do or do we need to come up with a more humane way of executing people? Or is the very idea of humane execution an oxymoron? When you shoot and kill your girlfriend and her father if you are in Arizona there's a chance that you'll have to pay for that with your life. So maybe it is what it is? And if Wood survived being shot nine times was that pain really worse than gasping for breath during his execution? Does this make you reexamine any of your thoughts about the death penalty and its implementation? My issues with the death penalty are its arbitrariness (the overwhelming majority of murderers will never face it) and its unfairness (it's tremendously biased in terms of race, class and gender). But if the State can't kill without torturing should the death penalty be scrapped?


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