Despite the increase in high profile cases of lethal injection attempts that have gone horribly awry, states continue to use secretive, unidentified “cocktails” to put criminals to death. That process, hopefully, may be slowing down, however, if Missouri is any indication.
A convicted murderer was scheduled to be executed this week, but the execution was put on hold due to the state’s refusal to disclose the source of where they received their lethal injection chemicals and what was in the combined cocktail. With notable issues with the drugs in Oklahoma and Ohio, secrecy is already a major concern to civil rights advocates. In the case of the Missouri execution it was an even larger issue, since the prisoner had a medical condition already, and without full disclosure on the drug there was no way to properly ascertain how the drugs would work on him, or if he would indeed have a painless death, versus one that could be considered “cruel and unusual.”
The federal Supreme Court weighed in and put the inmate’s execution on hold, sending the case back to district courts to decide if this failure to disclose the drugs and potential for another “botched” execution could be considered subjecting the prisoner to cruel and unusual punishment.
Missouri itself is already at the center of controversy when it comes to the death penalty, even without this new wrinkle. The state has already been accused of jumping the gun when it comes to executing prisoners, not waiting until their final appeals have officially run out before putting them to death. This isn’t something that happened once, either, but at least three times.
Perhaps realizing how controversial the entire topic has become, Missouri has decided that the best way to deal with it is to at least cut off inmates from any access to information on the issue. According to Care2′s s.e. smith, prison officials are refusing to allow an issue of St. Louis Magazine into the prisons, because it deals with incarceration and is critical of the Missouri prison system and especially the death penalty.
“The St. Louis Magazine feature covered an execution and discussed how Missouri has returned to the execution business,” writes smith. “It’s a stark, moving piece, serving as an indictment of the death penalty and the larger prison system itself.” Yet the article was kept from prisoners, even after the author, William Powell wrote a letter decrying the ban and the prison’s stance that they believed allowing prisoners to read the article would “instill violence or hatred” in the prisons and be a safety issue. As smith notes, it is the secrecy involved in not releasing details on the lethal injection drugs all over again.
The stay of execution and the intervention of the Supreme Court could be a sign that maybe the death penalty itself is being reconsidered, especially in light of the horrible and inhumane examples of lethal injections gone wrong in recent months. Then again, there’s also the possibility that rather than come to the realization that the death penalty is both unnecessary, cruel, and often racially motivated, states will instead just turn to a different mode of execution. That appears to be the case in Tennessee where, rather than eliminating executions all together now that lethal injections are proving to be a disaster, they are instead bringing back the electric chair as a mean of punishment. According to the Associated Press, Florida began using lethal injections rather than electrocutions back in 2000 after “bungled electrocutions raised concerns that the state’s death penalty would be declared unconstitutional.” Several other states are also considering bringing back firing squads and gas chambers.
Are we really going back around in circles? Maybe that’s a sign that it’s time to end the death penalty all together.
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