America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Ohio Must End Death Penalty, Torture

The last time the state of Ohio ended a life with capital punishment, Dennis McGuire choked, gasped for air and writhed in agony for 26 minutes before finally dying. Unable to procure reliable lethal execution drugs - the Danish company that produces them now refuses to sell to the U.S. government - Ohio decided to experiment with an untested drug cocktail that had never been used in an execution. Doctors told state officials that McGuire might suffocate to death; they decided to run the risk and suffocated him anyway.

As the old adage goes, "2 wrongs don't make a right." McGuire's crime - raping and murdering a pregnant woman - was horrific, but so was the state of Ohio's. Torturing someone to death violates fundamental moral standards at its most basic level. What the state government did to McGuire was an obvious case of "cruel and unusual punishment" prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Outrageously, Ohio is now preparing to engage in this criminal undertaking again. What's even more sickening is that the state will claim to do it in our name, on our behalf, as the people of Ohio. This evil practice stains us all.

Since the state still cannot procure reliable execution drugs, it is trying to experiment again for several executions scheduled in May. Fortunately, a federal court rejected the state's plans yesterday, upholding a January 26 ruling that the state's proposed drug cocktail "creates a substantial risk of serious harm." However, the state looks set to appeal. Shame on Governor Kasich, who drapes himself in Christian moralism when politically convenient and casts it aside when it's not.

Even if Ohio could kill incarcerated people without torture, applying the death penalty would still be a travesty. In Ohio's history of executions, nine people have been found innocent while sitting on death row, begging the question: How many innocent people has our government killed?

Aside from extreme - and extremely rare - cases of self defense, killing is obviously wrong. If our society believes in that principle, instead of just paying it lip service, then the death penalty is an absurdity. Killing someone because they killed someone else makes no sense. It's the "they-started-it" argument that kindergarten teachers reject every day in the schoolyard. The death penalty is revenge dressed in the guise of justice, and people of moral conscious should reject it. Not only is the death penalty a moral atrocity, it's an act of financial idiocy as well. Since the state brought back the death penalty in 1981, less than 20 % of those sentenced to death have been executed, according to Attorney General Mike DeWine's 2016 volume of "Capital Crimes Annual Report," published last Friday. More prisoners have been exonerated or have had their sentences reduced than have been executed in that time. This exorbitant legal wrangling costs the state far more than housing prisoners indefinitely.

The death penalty is a revolt against moral law and basic logic. Ohio's practice of torturing prisoners to death verges on the kind of depravity that would, in a just world, end with state officials in the docket at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. In Ohio and across the country, let the death penalty get the death penalty.

Source: Oberlin Review, Editorial Board, April 8, 2017

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