"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, October 9, 2015

USA: Enough is enough on capital punishment

On Sept. 30, at the very last minute, Oklahoma once again stayed Richard Glossip's execution. The state had been about to inject him with a drug cocktail using potassium acetate instead of the specified potassium chloride, but the Department of Corrections apparently did not realize it had the wrong drug until just before the scheduled execution and, because of Oklahoma's secrecy laws, no one else did, either.

The victim's family issued an agonized statement about the confusion and delay; while Glossip, in the execution holding cell, wondered why he hadn't been executed yet, his grieving family and friends believed he had been executed.

We had once been fervent supporters of capital punishment. One of us, Mark White, oversaw 19 executions while governor of Texas; the other, Mark Earley, oversaw 39 while attorney general of Virginia. Gradually, as we have seen the fallibility of the capital punishment system, we have come to the conclusion that the death penalty serves no one and, as we saw recently in Oklahoma, is simply cruel to all involved.

We do not yet know how Oklahoma got the wrong drug. We know that Glossip's lawyers had been desperately trying for months to get information on the execution protocol, including the source of the drugs and the qualifications of the execution team, but the state secrecy laws prevented them from doing so.

At the very last minute, the state realized it had the wrong drug, and officials at the Department of Corrections did the right thing by asking Gov. Mary Fallin to stay the execution until they could get things straightened out. We don't know if they can, because the state has now asked for and received an indefinite stay not only of Glossip's execution, but also of 2 others who had been scheduled for later this month.

Had there been appropriate transparency, perhaps this whole mess would have been avoided. We simply don't know.

And that is the heart of the matter. No one knows what is happening as states continue their efforts to execute people, even in the face of botched executions (including the Clayton Lockett execution in Oklahoma last year), death row inmates without lawyers, racial discrimination, possibly exonerating evidence that is revealed, if at all, at the last minute, and other profound problems.

In Glossip's case, witness recantations and changes in stories have raised real questions about whether he was even involved in the murder for which he is to be executed. Despite Glossip maintaining his claims of innocence throughout the process, the courts have ruled that his execution should go forward anyway. Perhaps this delay in carrying out the sentence will give Glossip's lawyers more time to pursue these claims.

This is not justice, not for anyone involved in the system, and certainly not for the families of victims, and for those who might be executed despite weak or erroneous evidence, mistaken drug protocols, and states desperately trying to keep it all secret.

The most extreme expression of any state's power is its ability to execute one of its citizens. Having watched these tragedies play out across the country for years, we have now come to the only conclusion possible: Enough is enough. It's time for every governor (or other elected official or relevant agency) in every state that continues to rely on capital punishment - an increasingly dwindling number - to impose an immediate moratorium on administration of the death penalty.

If states are going to have the death penalty, then state officials cannot continue to cloak their executions and inquiries into the execution process in secrecy, preventing counsel for the condemned, the courts and the public from obtaining basic details about how the states intend to carry out the ultimate punishment of death.

The Constitution Project, the American Bar Association, and any number of other good government organizations oppose this secrecy and advocate complete transparency. We agree. Death penalty states must not continue to conceal their lethal injection practices behind walls of secrecy.

Source: Tulsa World, October 9, 2015. Mark White, a Democrat, is a former governor of Texas, having previously served as the state's attorney general. Mark Earley, a Republican, is a former attorney general of Virginia. They are members of The Constitution Project Death Penalty Committee.

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