It has been less than three months since the last failed attempt at a lethal injection death penalty, and already we have another on the record. Arizona’s long, drawn out attempt at executing a prisoner bore a striking resemblance to the execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, including excruciating period of snorting and gasping. Now, much like a few months ago, we are again asking ourselves is it time to abolish the death penalty?
The execution of Joseph Wood was 117 minutes long, just a few minutes shy of two hours. That’s approximately 107 minutes longer than a lethal injection execution is supposed to take. One Fox News witness called it “very disturbing to watch … like a fish on shore gulping for air. At a certain point, you wondered whether he was ever going to die.” An Associated Press reporter felt similar, stating that he gasped over 600 times during the period after the drug was injected.
Prison officials claim that nothing went wrong. “Throughout this execution, I conferred and collaborated with our IV team members and was assured unequivocally that the inmate was comatose and never in pain or distress,” Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan told Politico. A representative for the state Attorney General argued he wasn’t gasping, just snoring. “He went to sleep and appeared to be snoring,” she said. “This was my first execution, and I was surprised at how peaceful it was.”
Whether he was snoring or gasping, highly sedated or somewhat aware of his surroundings, none of that changes the fact that what was allegedly supposed to be a 10 minute passage from life to death instead stretched the length of a movie before it was finally “successful,” a period so extensive that Wood’s lawyer actually had time to put in a request to the 9th circuit to ask them to stop the execution and resuscitate his client.
Like a number of recent cases, Wood appealed his execution because the state was refusing to disclose the drugs being used in the injection. That didn’t stop Wood from becoming what many are dubbing the latest victim in a series of botched executions.
According to CNN, “Human Rights Watch has compiled a list of U.S. executions between 1982 and 2006, which it considers ‘botched.’ It’s hard to spot an example on that list of an execution that drew out nearly as long as Wood’s did.”
Long or not, the continuation of states using a new combination of lethal injection drugs, despite now multiple examples of the process not occurring the way that prison officials claim it will, shows a callous disregard not just for human life, but for the constitutional right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment.
This lack of regard has local civil rights activists seething. “Arizona had clear warnings from Ohio and Oklahoma,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, told local press. “Instead of ensuring that a similar outcome was avoided here, our state officials cloaked the plans for Mr. Wood’s death in secrecy.”
Sadly, pollsters believe that regardless of the continuation of obviously botched executions, the general public is going to continue to accept the death penalty. “Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport said he doubted that prolonged executions would alter public opinion,” writes the Washington Post. “When supporters of the death penalty are asked why they are in favor, they tend to say condemned prisoners must pay for their crimes.”
Maybe as a society we have grown immune to suffering, and even see it as justifiable when someone has done evil themselves. Maybe we truly have become a country that accepts that two hours of gasping, shaking and snorting is an acceptable way to be sure we keep up the idea of vengeance and retribution. Maybe it will take a few more public accounts of hours of failed injections, more stories of people wrongfully executed, before we realize that the death penalty does little to deter crime, and only shows our own weakness as human beings, who still think the world requires an eye for an eye.
At this rate, we should have at least four more botched executions in the next year.
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