In November, you'll recall, Ohio announced that it would no-longer kill with sequential injections of three separate drugs but would, instead, use a single massive dose of barbiturate when it commits aggravated murder. They did, beginning in December with the murder of Ken Biros, and then in January and February when they killed Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi and then Mark Brown. They plan to do it again next week when they hope to murder Lawrence Reynolds.
The switch from three drugs to one had been urged for years. Doctors, lawyers, some abolitionists favored the switch. It was a sensible decision clinically and legally. About the only ones who opposed the change were the officials responsible for actually deciding how state killing should be done. And the rest of the nation watched. The question sat: Would any other state follow suit?
Yesterday, Washington joined Ohio.
Actually, Washington created an option. There are now three methods of state sanctioned murder in The Evergreen State.
- Three drugs
- One drug
Choice goes to the guy getting killed. Can't ask for much more than that.
Except, you know, it's still . . . .
Let me be absolutely clear about this. If the goal is to commit murder by lethal injection, and if the goal is that the murder should be essentially painless, then switching from three drugs to one makes sense. If the goal is a sanitized system where we say that some people must be killed but nobody's hands should get dirty, maybe this makes sense.
But the goal, however much we try to disguise it with sugar coating or a powder base, is killing. There's really no way to make that nice, no way to make it pretty. That we need the pretense, or think we do, probably says all that really needs to be said about it.
There was a death penalty trial in Toledo some years ago. After the jury returned and said that the defendant should die, the judge thanked them for their service. In very rough paraphrase, here's what he said.
What you've done is difficult, but the system required it. Thank you for your service to the county and the system of justice. We understand that this choice may continue to cause you stress and pain. Should any of you need counseling as a consequence of this decision, the County will provide help you find a counselor and pay for the counseling.
Ain't no way that changing the number of drugs we use changes that. The killing damages us, as it damages those we kill.
Washington, like Ohio, may avoid some litigation. What it can't avoid is the fact of what it does.