Thursday, September 17, 2009


One informal definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

On Tuesday, a team of trained killers (and yes "killers" is a harsh term, but it's strictly accurate) at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a prison in Lucasville, Ohio, spent two hours trying to obtain access to insert shunts and then IV lines into the veins of Romell Broom so that they could then inject a series of drugs in his body and kill him. The killers were, apparently, so worn and stressed from the process (we won't talk about Mr. Broom's state of mind) that they needed a break. While they went off to grab a Coke or smoke, the Governor called a halt. Enough, he said. Give it a rest. You can do it again next week. (All this, and more, is detailed here and here and here and all over the web.)

I suppose.

But what will change? Will Broom's veins be in better shape next Tuesday, after the damage done to them this week? Will he have sprouted new limbs with new veins? Will the killers have discovered that they're supposed to use needles not chopsticks to poke holes in Broom's arms?

The historical record of botched executions is lengthy. The guillotine sometimes required more than one drop. The firing squad sometimes missed. Hangings result in slow strangulation or decaptiation. The electric chair misfires. The gas chamber so repulses the witnesses that they require psychological treatment. And now lethal injection. (For a partial list of botched executions since 1976 see here.)

It's supposed to be peaceful, like putting a pet to sleep. Yet we use a combination of drugs that veterinarians don't use on animals because of the chance of causing horrific pain and suffering. (See here.)

Three times in three years we in Ohio have demonstrated wholesale inability to kill humanely. There is no reason, none, to believe that what we could not do this week we will suddenly be able to do next week. Or for Lawrence Reynolds in October or Darryl Durr in November or Kenny Biros in December or . . . . You get the idea.

There are, then, two alternatives. We can abandon the effort or abandon the pretense.

Either we give up state murder, acknowledge once and for all that the death penalty, no matter how cosmetically attractive we try to make it is just another killing, unnecessary, unfair, uncertain. Or we embrace the horror, admit that we torture people to death at least some of the time and acknowledge that we're just fine with it.

We can rent out Yankee Stadium (it's new and shiny) and line the bodies up. We can set lions on them. Or have them gnawed to death by rats. Pay per view. It's better than pro wrestling.

Thomas de Quincey's great satirical essay is called, "On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts." Or maybe it's just Lord of the Flies.

1 comment:

  1. No need to torture even some of the time: wrap head with ductape; attach dynamite; ignite electronically. He'll never feel a thing.

    Which would solve the causing the guest of honor pain problem neatly (so to speak). Doesn't touch the "hey, wait a minute -- that isn't the guy that did it!" or "You know, he really didn't get full benefit of due process" problems.

    I understand why DP opponents throw everything they can up against the wall and hope enough will stick -- for whatever reasons, they think the DP is a bad idea. But you point to the real issue: should we be executing people at all? (I'll put forward a wimpy, "Yeah, I think we should, but we really ought to be a lot more careful before we throw the switch," but ...)