Thursday, December 2, 2010

Capital Updates, We Got Updates

Build It and It Will Fall Down
 I wrote at some length the other day about Justice Stevens and how it took him 32 years to figure out that the rationality and coherence of the death penalty jurisprudence he signed off on in 1976 was a self-evident chimera to anyone who really thought about it.  And how even now, having concluded that the death penalty is unconstitutional, he can't quite admit that he got it wrong back then.
David Von Drehle, author of the brilliant Among the Lowest of the Dead: The Culture of Capital Punishment, makes the same point far more elegantly at  It begins this way.
Suppose that you hired a highly regarded architect to design a fancy house. He comes up with the most impressive and elaborate plans, but all the basic calculations about stresses and loads are completely wrong, and from the moment you first open the front door, the place starts falling apart.
Still, you have a lot invested in the house, and you don't want to tear it down, so you bring in an engineer who proposes that you jack up the north wing, and when that doesn't work you hire a contractor who advises you to instead lower the south wing. One expert suggests reinforcing the foundation. Another expert tells you to redesign the roof.
You try them all, and more. And this goes on for years, plunging you into debt, baffling your neighbors, and never coming close to fixing your house, which looks more and more hopeless with each new "repair." Then one day, the original architect comes by, sees the ruin, shakes his head sadly and asks why, oh why, did you let all those butchers tinker with his beautiful design.
That's essentially what retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, an architect of America's wreck of a death penalty system, has been doing in recent days. In an essay in The New York Review of Books, and again in an interview on 60 Minutes, Stevens has been busy blaming others for a mess of his own creation.
Like he said.

About a month ago, discussing the shortage of thiopental and how Arizona smuggled secretly imported some from England for the execution of Jeffrey Landrigan, I noted that Reprieve was suing the government to prevent the export of the drug.
The other day, BBC reported that Vince Cable, Britain's Business Secretary, has halted the export.
The decision, which reverses the UK government's previous position, came amid a legal battle over sodium thiopental manufactured in Europe.
Mr Cable's lawyers had told the High Court they couldn't stop exports because the drug had legitimate uses.
However, he changed that position after seeing evidence that the drug was only being exported for use on death row.
Mr Cable said: "In light of new information I have taken the decision to control the export of sodium thiopental. This move underlines this government's and my own personal moral opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances without impacting legitimate trade."
It won't stop the killing, of course.  Oklahoma already figured out that one barbiturate isn't all that different from another and plans to use pentobarbital instead of thiopental for its next murder.
As NewsOK reports, pentobarbital is the "drug usually given in animal euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Oregon and the Netherlands."
U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot thinks that's fine.  He didn't actually say the drug is safe or proper for killing people.  He just said it "falls short of the level of risk" the Supremes said would make it unconstitutional.
If They Were Innocent, We Wouldn't Kill Them
At least, I assume that's what Texas will argue on Monday when the hearing we've been waiting for begins before Judge Kevin Fine.
Fine is the judge who's presiding over the capital murder case of John Edward Green, Jr.  Back in March, Fine said that the Texas procedures for imposing death sentences were unconstitutional because it was too easy for innocent people to get executed.  Then he sort-of took it back and scheduled a hearing.  The state tried to take him off the case.  Nope
There have been more delays and more briefs, but the show gets under way on Monday, December 6.
And, of course, along the way, Claude Jones has joined the list of the almost-certainly-factually- innocent-but-murdered-anyway down in Lone Star State.
We'll be watching.

1 comment:

  1. As with all things DP related, I'm sure you were already planning on it, but please keep your faithful readers informed as to the hearing before Fine. We are indeed watching.