USA | Parkland Case Challenges Us All to Figure Out What a Mass Murderer Deserves

The ongoing sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz, the 23-year-old Florida man who in 2018 murdered fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, will test whether the seven men and five women on the jury hearing his case can hate the sin but muster the courage to spare the life of the sinner. That is exactly what his defense team is asking them to do as they sit in judgment of the person who perpetrated one of this country’s most brutal mass murders. Like many death penalty defense lawyers before them, Cruz’s lawyers, to their credit, have not downplayed the gravity of the horrors their client inflicted in Parkland, Florida. Instead, during the sentencing trial, or what the journalist Dahlia Lithwick once called a “trial of the heart,” they have focused their attention on who Cruz is and the factors that shaped his life. As the Supreme Court said more than fifty years ago, in capital cases those who impose the sentence must consider “

USA | South Carolina Judge Rules Against Use of Firing Squad and Electric Chair

The judge sided with death row inmates in declaring the punishments cruel and unusual.

A judge in South Carolina ruled on Tuesday that the state’s planned use of a firing squad and an electric chair for executions was unconstitutional, deeming the methods cruel and unusual, giving relief to 4 death row inmates who had sued the state.

The decision, by Circuit Court Judge Jocelyn Newman, is likely to be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, according to The State, a newspaper in Columbia, S.C.

With South Carolina unable to acquire the drugs necessary for lethal injection, state lawmakers last year approved a law that would require death row inmates to choose between the electric chair or a firing squad, with electrocution the default if they declined to choose. But Judge Newman sided with the inmates, writing in her opinion that the state had failed to prove that the execution methods would produce painless deaths.

“In 2021, South Carolina turned back the clock and became the only state in the country in which a person may be forced into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die,” Judge Newman wrote in her opinion. “In doing so, the General Assembly ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency.”

1 of the 4 inmates who sued, Richard B. Moore, who was convicted of murder for killing a store clerk in 1999, was scheduled in April to  be the first person executed by firing squad, but the state’s Supreme Court halted the execution.

In an execution by firing squad, the inmate would be strapped to a metal chair, with a physician placing an “aiming point” over the inmate’s heart and his or her head covered with a hood. Three gunmen would be positioned 15 feet away, firing in unison at the inmate’s chest.

A physician would then check the inmate’s vital signs, checking again every minute until death could be certified. If vital signs were still present after 10 minutes, the firing squad would fire an additional round.

The method has rarely been used in the United States in modern times; the last time was in Utah in 2010. Though South Carolina argued that death would be immediate and painless, Judge Newman sided with experts summoned by the defense, who said the inmate would most likely be conscious for at least 10 seconds after impact.

“This constitutes torture, a possibly lingering death, and pain beyond that necessary for the mere extinguishment of death,” Judge Newman wrote.

The state uses an electric chair bought in 1912, though components have been replaced. Judge Newman wrote that there was “no evidence to support the idea that electrocution produces an instantaneous or painless death.”

South Carolina, which conducted its last execution in 2011, is one of several states that have been unable to procure the drugs necessary for lethal injection, which many states have seen as the most humane form of execution. Pharmaceutical companies, wary of being associated with products that end lives, have made the drugs difficult for states to acquire, and doubts remain about whether they keep prisoners from feeling pain.

Polls have found that a majority of Americans support the death penalty, though support has dropped in recent years. It is legal in about 1/2 the states; Oklahoma is set to execute 25 death row prisoners who have exhausted their appeals, killing 10 per year in 2023 and 2024.

Source: New York Times, Daniel Victor, September 7, 2022

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

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