Alex Blaze

Death penalty team resigns in Washington

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 06, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: death penalty, killing, law, murder, state pen, Washington

A death row inmate in Washington is currently suing the state because the state's execution method, lethal injection, can be long and painful if not administered correctly.

The judge in that case, in order to evaluate the chance of lethal injection being administered correctly, asked for information concerning the qualifications of the team of four prison employees at the Walla Walla state penitentiary who perform executions. Very few people know who they are. Out of fear that their identities would get out, the death penalty team resigned.

Of course, the judge said he had to review their qualifications but he wouldn't let any identifying information get out. Their secret would most likely be safe with the judge, so you have to wonder just how afraid they are that their identities will get out that they wouldn't even be willing to take a very small risk.

The attorney general said:

They don't want picketers showing up on their front lawns, and they don't want offenders knowing who they are.

This seems like a bizarre situation to me, considering just how many people are involved in an execution. It's hard to point the finger at this team of four for the fact that someone was killed when there are the prosecutors, the jurors, the judges, legislators, and a governor who, together, bear more responsibility for an execution. Everyone else has their name plastered all over these cases, so why are these four hiding?

In many state elections for attorney general, you're likely to hear about just how "tough on crime" the candidates are. Governors and state legislators are often unlikely to reform death penalty procedures, prisons, or the criminal justice system because they want all of their constituents to know that they're responsible for putting the bad guys to death.

This is a society where the death penalty is still pretty popular, and a significant group of citizens want to continue and expand it. Politicians love to be associated with it, and many judges, whose names appear in newspapers, don't resign in protest when they have to sentence someone to it or uphold it.

The only difference is that these folks don't pull the trigger or push the plunger. They can all talk as tough as they want; when it comes down to it, there's a big space between ordering someone to die and actually killing that person.

And the team of four would understand that difference. The secretary of the state Department of Corrections said in the article that it's hard to find qualified people to perform executions and that they might have to fly in another team from another state (conditioned on their complete anonymity) for the next execution.

There are plenty of unfortunate comments on the Seattle Times article from people asking to play executioner in the team of four's place. I have no doubt that there are people who would find pleasure in performing the death penalty themselves; there are plenty of sickos in this country.

But whether we're talking about qualified people who take this job seriously while performing their work in secrecy or people who think it'd be a whole lot of fun to kill someone else, the conversation is about the actual act of killing. And if we assume against all logic that someone who'd want to avenge an executed individual but would bypass the judges and prosecutors and the governor and everyone else who campaigned on a "tough on crime" platform and go after just the people who actually performed the execution, then it shows just how much weight we place on the act of killing over all the talk and process and justifications that go with it.

Because for all the justifications of the death penalty, the discourse on justice, the fact that many people believe in the face of real evidence that it's good for society, the talk about being tough on crime, the complex legal hoops that must be jumped through, and rhetoric of guilt and innocence, the death penalty is, at its heart, about killing human beings.

And no legal, ethical, or philosophical argument can change that.

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I want to start out by saying that I am opposed to the death penalty under any circumstance, period.

Having said that, I am realistic enough to know that states are going to do what they're going to do. I would much rather have the process supervised and carried out by people who have been appropriately trained. Prison staff are not going to submit to training if they feel threatened.

Have you spent any time talking to someone who has worked in a "supermax" type prison? Prisoners and staff "get got" for all sorts of reasons. I can't blame a prison staffer for not wanting to take unnecessary chances with his or her life.

They are handling substances about which they know little. I've been through these issues in an international crimes petition in lethal injection execution. The staff memorises some basic info with nearly no understanding of the pharmacology or the mechanism of death. If a person is alive but paralysed when they run the potassion in, it is excrutiatingly painful and the individual cannot move to object (one was neither adequately sedated nor paralysed ad nearly broke through the restraints as the potassium ran into him.)

Hence the judicial inquiry.....

If we are going to have to continue this barbaric practice, then we might as well use the old French method of mechanically beheading in a public square, perhaps in Colorado Springs. Faster and more dignified in the end.....

I'll admit that I'm not opposed to the death penalty. I do feel that people who'd commit a GLBT-based murder should face capital punishment, among others.

That stated, I am familiar with the chemicals used in lethal injection, and don't approve of the use of them in that manner. A human being could be given many other substances that would cause death. The convict could just as well be given a huge dose of morphine, Dilaudid, barbiturates, chloral hydrate, or methaqualone, instead, which would bring death with just as much certainty.