The execution of Angel Nieves Diaz by lethal injection lasted 34 minutes instead of a seven to 11 minute average. After the first dose of drugs, the inmate continued to move; he squinted and grimaced as he tried to speak. A second dose finally killed him, but after how much suffering?
Sadly, cases like Diaz’s happen. In the last 25 years, the Death Penalty Information Center has recorded 40 executions with irregularities either during asphyxiation, electrocution or lethal injection.
Most of the problems occur during lethal injections on inmates with a history of drug abuse, whose veins can be difficult to locate. Because the ethics code prohibits doctors and nurses to participate in executions, it takes more time for execution teams to find useable veins. Thus, the lack of qualified personnel increases the risk of mistakes.
The lethal injection requires expertise; the protocol consists of three separate injections, including a first dose of anesthetics, which makes the convict lose consciousness.
Research from four Southern states revealed in 2005 that 43 out of 49 executed inmates had less anesthetics in their blood than patients who have surgery. More alarming: 21 of them had a concentration of anesthetics consistent with awareness. The same study found that the personnel who inject anesthetics in Texas and Virginia had no training for it.
Because of issues regarding lethal injection, the number of executions this year will reach its lowest rate since 1994. Most states, including Texas, have halted executions since the U.S. Supreme Court announced in September that it will re-examine the process of lethal injection. Nevertheless, the Lone Star State has already recorded more executions this year than in 2006.
Why does Texas, a land of Christian fervor, account for 26 of the United States’ 42 executions in 2007?
Partisans of the death penalty recall the Old Testament and its law of “an eye for an eye.” Indeed, Exodus says certain crimes like murder and kidnapping deserve death, but it also includes a man sleeping with another man.
Opponents of the death penalty object that Jesus, in the Beatitudes, taught his followers to love their enemies.
John Williams, professor emeritus of French, says he rejects the death penalty as a Christian because of Jesus’ preaching; however, he understands the obligation of a government to protect its citizens from criminals.
Williams compares the death penalty to wars because in both cases, governments take the right to kill people. More people reject the death penalty than war, but, paradoxically, Williams says he feels more insecure about murderers in his own country than about criminals in Iraq, for example.
Capital punishment does assure that a murderer will not harm again. Unfortunately, courts sometimes convict the wrong suspect.
The Death Penalty Information Center has recorded 124 cases in which innocent people were released from the death row since 1973. No historical case has ever proved the execution of an innocent, but serious doubts remain on the guilt of several executed prisoners.
In 1993, the state of Texas executed Robert Cantu for a murder committed during an attempted robbery. Juan Moreno, an eyewitness and illegal immigrant at the time, revealed after the execution that Cantu did not commit the crime, but the police pressured him to identify Cantu. Sam Millsap, the district attorney who charged Cantu with capital murder, admitted later that he never should have sought the death penalty if he had known all the facts.
But partisans of the death penalty believe it deters crime and argue that it costs less than life imprisonment. However, research of the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002 concluded that the capital punishment doesn’t deter murder more than life imprisonment does.
Fred Bailey, chair of the Department of History, says that even in societies where such punishments are sure and public, desperate people still break the law. “I believe that it makes a society more brutal than more civilized,” he says.
As for the costs, studies made in seven states, including Texas, surprisingly reveal that overall death penalty costs more than life imprisonment. Indeed, trials for capital punishment require more experts and attorneys, and last longer because of the appeal process.
Why preserve the death penalty when life without parole offers the same main advantage -keeping criminals away from the society? This country remains in company of notorious human right abusers like China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan, the five countries that counted the most executions in 2006. Shamefully, the United States ranked no. 6 that year.
Texas and 37 other U.S. states should abandon the death penalty in favor of life without parole.