New Execution Methods Can’t Disguise Same Old Death Penalty Problems

Originally posted by the ACLU of Ohio.

Ohio made history today by becoming the first state to use the two-drug combination of midazolam and hydromorphone in the execution of Dennis McGuire. State officials decided to use this experimental combination of powerful sedatives and painkillers after supplies of approved execution drugs ran dry. These shortages have caused other states to begin using experimental and downright dangerous methods to carry out executions.

One of the most popular alternatives has been for states to seek out drugs from compounding pharmacies. These drugs are made to order and have no accountability measures or oversight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the drugs work as they are intended. The result—some, if not all, batches of drugs from compounding pharmacies may be ineffective and would not have passed traditional FDA approval. This greatly increases the risk that the condemned will experience torturous pain while they are executed. Even those who may strongly agree with the death penalty must admit that conducting state business in secret without accountability is no way for government to run. Even if execution itself has not (yet) been found a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel” and unusual punishment, certainly a torturous death using experimental drug combinations is.

Unfortunately, Ohio tends to be a trailblazer in devising new ways to execute people. It was the first state to use single drugs, sodium thiopental and then pentobarbital, in executions. These changes in execution methods underscore the tremendous problems that have plagued Ohio’s lethal injections over the last several years. Spanning from 2006-2009, Ohio had three botched executions culminating in the failed execution attempt of Romell Broom, who is still awaiting his second execution date on death row.

These experimentations are not the only area where Ohio has entered the macabre. Dennis McGuire was not supposed to be the first Ohioan executed by this new drug combination. Ronald Phillip was scheduled to be executed in November 2013, but received a last-minute reprieve from Governor Kasich in order to explore whether Mr. Phillip could donate his organs.

The recent move by states to experiment with lethal injection drugs is outrageous, but also rather futile. While we continue to experiment with new drugs to execute human beings, we ignore the underlying problems with the death penalty.

As Ohio executed Dennis McGuire with this experimental drug cocktail, a state taskforce commissioned by the Ohio Supreme Court readies its final recommendations to address how the death penalty is administered in the state. They have identified troubling issues such as large racial and geographic disparities in capital convictions, the use of the death penalty on severely mentally ill people, and the overall arbitrariness of the death penalty.

None of this is new information in Ohio or the rest of the nation. Scholars, criminal justice experts, and human rights leaders have long pointed to these issues as indicative of how broken the death penalty is in America. And yet, the machinery of the death penalty carries on in vain with new drugs, methods, and experiments. Try as we might, these new methods cannot disguise the fact that the death penalty in America is simply not working.

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Anonymous

I LIVE in Ohio and I HATE the ACLU of Ohio. Why aren't they like the national ACLU? Their very style of communications irks the living hell out of me, and I'm really quite sick of everyone feeling so goddam sorry for murderers anyway.
Do you think you could invite the jerk who did this to your own personal homes and that he'd be so grateful for your "equality of mind" that you strove to get for him when it comes to NOT giving him death that he'll repay your kindness in any other way than to stab you in the back, burn your body and throw it in the nearest DUMPSTER?

My friend, Lauren Rousseau, was the kindest most caring person I ever met. She didn't even mistrust homeless people. She thought that if she gave everyone a little understanding, a genuine smile and an honest attempt to care about them that most people would respond in similar fashion.
Adam Lanza burst into her classroom one day, shot her in the face (then shot her again after she'd fallen), proceeded to shoot AND kill all but one of her 15 students and then left the room in an attitude of "I'll do what I want" taken to it's final and most extreme end. At which time he entered Victoria Soto's classroom, shot her in front of her students and killed 6 more first graders while the other 8 escaped from the room.

But I bet you guys would have been all on board helping Adam Lanza if they'd even THOUGHT to give him the death penalty, probably b/c you believe the same thing Lauren thought her whole life, that if you're just fair enough and nice enough with people, they'll eventually come around. See that you don't have to live with hate in your heart and become productive members of society.
I'm telling you: The Adam Lanzas of this world will never EVER come around to a normal way of thinking. They even excuse their actions by blaming their life circumstances for choices they DIDN'T elect to resist making.

I disagree that the Death Penalty is broken in cases like Adam Lanza and John Byrd, an Ohio murderer that Ohio ACLU represented in the fight to give him life in prison. Or at least not kill him so the taxpayers of Ohio would be forever burdened with his expenses.
I knew the person whose husband John Byrd killed. I have no problem with them thinking he SHOULDN'T get death but I have a major issue with the fact that the whole time people were arguing for his clemency, John Byrd was sending threats of violence to his victim's family.
There should be a downright law AGAINST that kind of crap, and how the hell can his family expect him to get clemency when he was badgering the hell out of his victim's family?
They're not too smart about what they decide they're going to do. If he'd at least ACTED as if he were sorry, I bet he could have gotten the clemency he wanted but he decided to actively DO things to harass his victim's family.

Dan in Wisconsin

Your last sentence is completely false.
-- " Try as we might, these new methods cannot disguise the fact that the death penalty in America is simply not working"

If the person dies, I think the method did what it intended.

And on a more serious note, why is it that so much compassion is given to those on death row? If they committed an act so cruel and harsh that it landed them a ticket to death row then why waste tax payer dollars coming up with "safe" methods of carrying out the death penalty. Who cars if it's safe, so long as it gets the job done.

Anonymous

OTOH I don't understand why something appeared to go wrong when he finally got the "cocktail." Other than the fact that there's no way to know if an "experimental drug" is going to do that or not, and that's ethically wrong to do it under those conditions IMO.
I DISagree with it taking him 15 minutes to die. I refuse to stoop to the levels they did when killing their victims. If the execution doesn't proceed as fast and as painless as possible then you might as well not do it.
There's no way I can stand there and watch someone take 15 minutes to die, even if the person himself COULD have done so with his victim.

Lauren never would have wanted Adam Lanza to take 15 minutes to die. I know b/c I knew how she was. She didn't even like honking her horn when someone would cut her off in traffic. Her boyfriend used to say "You should honk your horn at that guy."
"Oh...I couldn't do that," she'd reply. "It seems like too mean of a thing to do."

Neither of the two people I know who ended up dead by violence would have wanted that.
If you can't do it efficiently, I don't think it should be done at all.

Anonymous

@Dan in Wisconsin

Because sometimes it turns out the person DIDN'T actually commit an "act so cruel and harsh that it landed them a ticket to death row"? Because there are huge racial disparities in arrests, convictions, sentencing, and executions (fun note, there was actually a study done showing that when people found out that black people are more likely to be executed than white people, the respondents felt MORE favorably towards the death penalty)? Because there's a pretty strong argument that awaiting execution by your state is actually "cruel and unusual punishment"? Because we don't get to claim we're a "civilized" society if the only real reason to execute someone is (not to keep them far away from society) but to quench bloodlust/revenge?

Because of those things?

Robert in Ohio

It is a hunters responsibility to make a "clean" kill.

Vicki B.

Wow. I totally missed the second paragraph about drugs made to order and no accountability on them.
That's highly irregular. I lived with a doctor who made drugs for other reasons (for people with heart conditions,) and he said there was almost no exceptions to the rule that the FDA approve of a drug before it goes to market.
The only exception he mentioned to me was new solutions for terminal cancer and AIDS patients b/c, at the time, AIDS was a 100% death rate, not like it is now.
But he never said anything about THIS. I don't think he would have made an untested drug for them, not even in this case, b/c he would have been too uncomfortable to do it.
I wonder how they get them to do THIS? Offer them hush money?

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