Friday, November 13, 2009

The Execution Express

So now there's a new plan.

Let me back up to provide some context.

Ohio, like every state that kills with lethal injection (which is now every state that kills) has always used a series of three drugs:
  1. Sodium thiopentol, a fast acting, short term barbiturate
  2. Pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant that prevents all voluntary movement and, effectively, paralyzes
  3. Potassium chloride, a salt that stops the heart
If all goes well, the barbiturate puts the condemned inmate into what's knows as a surgical plane of anethesia where he (or she, but only rarely she, and never in this modern era in Ohio) will feel nothing. The muscle relaxant then keeps the inmate still while the potassium chloride (which would otherwise result in all the body's muscles clenching and make the inmate look gruesome and agonized while being killed) actually kills.

The evidence from surgery and from executions around the country (and from Ohio, though this is less informative than some of what we know from other states) is that all sometimes does not go well. If the inmate doesn't get enough of the barbiturate - or if it isn't actually delivered into a vein, he could die a horrible, agonizing, excruciatingly painful death. It would be torture in any ordinary sense of the word.

Ohio has an additional problem, though. Three times in the past three and a half years, out execution team (the official state killers) has demonstrated that it isn't competent to insert IV lines into death row inmates in the first place. We can't even get the drugs running, let alone running right.

Most recently, of course, that was what happened with Romell Broom. For now, Broom lives. One of these days, they hope to try again to kill him.

But it was obviously a mess, and Governor Ted and DRC Director Terry Collins decided to come up with a better plan. While they've worked on it, Ohio's string of monthly killings has been on hold. (You can read about all of that to date at a number of places including a half-dozen or so prior posts on this blawg.)

So now we have a plan. Announced today, in an affidavit by Terry Collins and made part of a filing in federal court. It's in two basic parts.
For the first change, going forward, pancuronium bromide no longer will be used as part of the lethal injection process. Also, potassium chloride no longer will be used as part of that process.
They are, that is, abandonin three drugs. From now on, it's just thiopentol. A lot of it. And more as needed. That's how they euthanize dogs and cats. Everyone except executioners and those who work with them has been saying for several years it's the smart thing to do. But nobody actually knows how it will work, since it's never been done on people.

There's some indication that if you measure death by use of an EKG, it could take 30 or 40 minutes to kill that way. If you don't use an EKG, thiopentol can kill in, perhaps, under 10 minutes. Some states actually use an EKG. Seat-of-the-pants Ohio isn't one of them.

In any event, and assuming this is a really good idea, it doesn't do a thing to resolve the Romell Broom problem. If they can't get the IV in, they can't pump any drugs.

What to do?

That's the second part of the new plan. It call for a fall back, a back-up, a plan B. Until now, the procedure has been that if they can't get the IV lines going, they'll huddle and decide what to do next. No longer.
A second change has been made to the lethal injection procedure. As a back-up, if an IV site cannot be established or maintained, then an intramuscular ("IM") injection may be used. That injection would consist of 10 milligrams ("mg") of midazolam and 40 mg of hydromorphone . . . .
Nobody's ever tried this as a killing method, either. Nobody knows how it will work. Nobody knows what will happen. And, of course, there's no particular reason to think that our incompetent killers will be able to effect this.

But, and this is part three of the new plan, it will be in place in time for the next scheduled killing. No delay, no confusion.

His name is Ken Biros. Ohio wants to murder him on December 8. Terry Collins says they'll be ready to do that. And it kind of makes you wonder.

Here's what Ohio - in its best effort to become Texas - plans to do:
  • December 8 - Ken Biros
  • January 7 - Abdullah Kazim Sharif Mahdi
  • February 4 - Mark Brown
  • March 9 - Lawrence Reynolds
  • April 20 - Darryl Durr
  • May 13 - Michael Beuke
  • June 10 - Richard Nields
And you can look forward to July, August, September, and October, too, I'd imagine. There's a train here, and it's been sidelined for a bit. But Governor Ted and Terry Collins and the Ohio Supreme Court, they're ready to start stoking up the engine again (or however that worked on the old steam locomotives).

See, here's my question: Did they come up with this plan and this plan B because they're the best they could do? Or did they come up with them because they're the best they can do and still get someone killed in a couple of weeks?

And will it work? Will they be able to implement a new plan when they couldn't manage the old one? And what will the courts do?

And what the hell was the rush?

You know, this was a real opportunity to think about maybe reconsidering the whole idea of murdering people because they murdered, a chance to consider whether maybe there are better ways to deal with anger and frustration, a time to decide that maybe we should be better than the people we want to punish.

Opporunity lost.

Let the killing begin.

Or not.

As Tiny Tim didn't say, God help us, every one.

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