Monday, August 8, 2011

Ohio and the Death Penalty

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio postponed for a month the state’s next execution. The decision is an admission that Ohio’s management of the death penalty is broken and further proof that the machinery of death cannot be operated responsibly anywhere.

The governor made the postponement after a federal district judge in Ohio stayed another execution, when that death-row inmate argued that the state had repeatedly violated its own protocols for administering the death penalty. “It is the policy of the State of Ohio that the State follows its written execution protocol, except when it does not,” Judge Gregory Frost wrote in a legal opinion last month. The judge observed bluntly, “This is nonsense.”

To the judge, “Ohio’s execution policy now embraces a nearly unlimited capacity for deviation from the core or most critical execution procedures.” The state used to insist that its “written protocol” setting out those procedures had “the force of law.” In this case, the state presented the protocol as guidelines that could carelessly be “ignored.”

The opinion listed several important ways that Ohio has violated its own rules based on facts presented to the court. The state has let into its execution chamber someone who was not a member of the official execution team, a doctor who tried unsuccessfully to insert an intravenous line into an inmate’s arm. It has failed to document the appropriate preparation of the drug used. And it has failed to have two medical-team members present at an execution, to ensure that the injection was properly administered. The judge concluded about the state’s serial errors, “A death warrant cannot trump the Constitution.”

Ohio’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, said the state will use the additional time before the next execution, scheduled for September, to address these problems. Governor Kasich should instead listen to Ohio’s senior Supreme Court justice, Paul Pfeifer, who helped write the state’s death-penalty law as a legislator and has called on Ohio to abolish what he calls the “death lottery.” It is time for every state with the penalty on the books to outlaw this barbaric punishment.

Source: Editorial, The New York Times, August 8, 2011

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