PIcture: Matt Rainey/The Star Ledger
The state of New Jersey will be voting in the coming weeks to abolish the death penalty and we are expecting it to pass. I know this because last Friday the New Jersey Assembly speaker, Joe Roberts held a press conference with Sister Helen Prejean announcing his support of the bill. If you happen to watch too much C-Span and news as I do, you’ll know that the Speaker never holds a press conference on an issue unless he is sure that he has enough votes to get the bill passed (video here).
“I also want the jury to be able to walk into the Court of Criminal Appeals and see where that phone call came in,” Kallinen said. He said the change also allowed him to beef up portions of the suit dealing with judicial immunity, the lawsuit’s highest hurdle. Judges are immune from lawsuits dealing with their judicial actions, but can under limited conditions be sued over administrative decisions.
Kallinen said he withdrew the lawsuit Thursday and mailed the new version to the Austin federal court, where he anticipates it will be filed Tuesday.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a front page article in their Sunday’s paper regarding the case of Troy David. News Week has an article titled, “Injection of Reflection” that discusses the lethal injection debate and the diminishing support for the Death Penalty among those who are involved in the process, such as juries, Judges, wardens, and state governors.
The new reluctance to punish by killing is part of a historical trend. There was a time when death and torture were spectator sports, when crowds flocked to see prisoners drawn and quartered or beheaded. In some parts of the world, flogging and stoning are still public spectacles. But in the 19th century, supposedly “enlightened” states began looking for more-humane ways to serve final justice—to kill people without causing too much suffering to either the victims or their executioners. The authorities tried hanging, firing squads, electrocutions, gas chambers and, more recently, lethal injection. Each method was supposed to be an improvement over the last…
Jurors and prosecutors are steering away from the death penalty because they are both more and less afraid: more apprehensive about killing the innocent and less fearful of crime. Over the past decade, the use of DNA testing on wrongly convicted criminals has overturned prison sentences for at least 200 inmates nationwide (about 15 of them sentenced to death). In 2000, Illinois declared a moratorium on executions after 13 death-row inmates were exonerated. Back in the ’80s, when violent crime was surging along with crack-cocaine addiction in cities, Americans demanded retributive justice. But as crime rates fell in the ’90s and the first few years of the new century, jurors became more lenient in capital cases.
At the same time, prosecutors began to be wary of seeking the death penalty. A series of court decisions required that more states provide competent lawyers for the criminally accused in death-penalty cases. Better defense lawyers could stall and maneuver, running up the cost to the state of bringing a capital case. The more-clever lawyers have been especially good at introducing “mitigating circumstances” into these cases, arguing that the abuse suffered by the killer as a child helps to explain the horrible crime he or she committed. Since 1982, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a think tank, the state has spent more than $250 million on the death penalty, or about $11 million a year—without executing a single prisoner. With legal costs soaring in death cases, states are finding it cheaper to pay for lifetime prison sentences.
Tyler Morning Telegraph has a story about a presentation by Dr. William Girard of University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston about lethal injections.
“There are many instances … difficulty finding a vein, equipment failing, choking and heaving, the needle becoming lodged, or is pointed in the wrong direction,” Girard said, “definitely (allowing for) the possibility of agony or suffocation during a period of time before death.”
In May, prison officials in Ohio stuck Christopher Newton at least 10 times with needles, delaying his execution more than an hour, as they struggled to place shunts in his arms to administer the fatal doses.
While lethal injection protocol varies by state, the American Veterinary Medicine Association issues and frequently updates a 39-page guideline for euthanasia.
The most encouraged form of euthanasia involves one ingredient: a long-acting anesthetic called sodium pentobarbital.
The animal is given a high dose which pushes them past loss of consciousness into apnea and then into cardiac arrest.
Using an anesthetic assures vets that the animal is completely asleep when its heart stops.
But, lethal injections used on inmates contain a short-acting anesthetic called thiopental, Girard said.
And unlike lethal injections, vet guidelines discourage the use of a paralyzing agent, saying it could lead to death by asphyxiation which isn’t even appropriate once an animal is unconscious.
“I concluded that the paralyzing agent is used in lethal injection for the benefit of the viewers, to keep the inmate from squirming if the anesthesia isn’t adequate,” Girard said.