Feature

The death penalty: On the way out?

After the “sickening spectacle” of a botched execution, Gov. Ted Strickland suspended the death penalty in the state of Ohio.

“Enough,” said The Hartford Courant in an editorial. “The death penalty is a national embarrassment,” and if any further proof were needed, it was provided a few weeks ago in Ohio. Prison technicians there trying to execute convicted murderer Romell Broom by lethal injection struggled to find a usable vein, repeatedly sticking needles into his bruised and bleeding arms and legs for two horrifying hours. Broom cried out in pain when the needles hit bone, and even tried to assist the bumbling executioners in finding a vein before they had no choice but to return a traumatized, weeping prisoner to his cell. Broom was a killer, but the “sickening spectacle” of his botched execution was a reminder of why a government shouldn’t punish one horrific crime with another.

Gov. Ted Strickland has since suspended executions in Ohio, said The New York Times, but a better response would be a permanent, nationwide ban. Executions are not only immoral—they’re absurdly expensive. Because of years of legal appeals, and the added cost of keeping prisoners on “death row,” it cost Maryland, for example, $186 million to execute five prisoners over two decades. So make it cheaper, said Ed Okonowicz in the Wilmington, Del., News Journal. After being sentenced to death, most murderers spend years, often decades, appealing their verdicts through taxpayer-funded court proceedings, while the families of their victims wait in agony for justice. Rather than banning the death penalty, we should be “fast-tracking executions.”

If states fast-track executions, said the San Antonio Express-News, they’ll surely execute innocent people. DNA evidence has freed numerous death-row inmates, and there’s now little doubt that Texas executed an innocent man in 2004. Todd Willingham was convicted of deliberately setting a fire that killed his three children, but as The New Yorker magazine recently revealed, the case was based on an incompetent arson investigator’s analysis, which even prosecutors now admit was flawed and unscientific. If that weren’t bad enough, said Ta-Nehisi Coates in TheAtlantic.com, Texas Gov. Rick Perry this week replaced three members of a commission looking into the Willingham case, replacing the chairman with a hard-line conservative prosecutor. It’s a blatant abuse of power, but given that Perry denied Willingham’s request for clemency—ignoring strong scientific evidence that the fire wasn’t arson—it’s not surprising that the governor intervened. Who wouldn’t want to cover up their involvement in “state-sponsored murder”?

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