May 2, 2006

"It's not working. It's not working."

Said the condemned man, sitting up, after the lethal chemicals were pumping into his veins. A curtain was drawn, things were readjusted, the curtain reopened, and Joseph Lewis Clark was dispatched. Before the execution he apologized, and said, "Today my life is being taken because of drugs. If you live by the sword you die by the sword."

42 comments:

Scott Ferguson said...

Capital punishment is so stupid on so many levels. It's amazing that it is supported in a country where a majority of its citizens claim to be Christian.

Marghlar said...

Scott,

If you are saying that capital punishment is a waste of resources (given the high cost of providing so many appeals, vis a vis the added deterrence cost), I'd probably agree with you.

However, I'd say that this guy probably did deserve what he got. He killed a fair number of people, and it sounds like it was damned deliberate.

I'd say the best compromise is to execute only in the very worst cases (thus, getting the most added value out of the execution, and adding deterrence where we need it most). I'm not sure this guy's case would qualify for it.

That being said, as the appeals process is now a sunk cost, I don't feel terrible that this guy is no longer among the living.

Ken Mitchell said...

I have no philosphical problem with the death penalty; some people (in the language of the Old West) just "need killin'". The problem is that justice isn't perfect, and an unacceptable number of people have been proven innocent by DNA weeks or days before their scheduled executions. Thankfully, we have not (yet) discovered that an innocent man has been put to death - although it has no doubt happened.

But "life" imprisonment sometimes isn't. And modern medical care often allows prisoners longer lives than they would otherwise have. The solution is that "life" prisoners should be welded into their cells, and told "This door will open only after you are dead, or found innocent." Nothing should go through the cell door except food and water.

"Rehabilitation" is for people who will someday be released.

dave said...

i think we've had the 'blood on our hands' discussion before. not that we shouldn't have it again, mind you...

but i'd prefer to have the 'lethal injection is cruel and unusual' debate (though we've had that as well). more evidence in favor of injection being removed/ammended is always welcome.

there are lots of people that will be no great loss to me when they die, but that doesn't mean i want to kill them

look i already broke my own suggestion

Marghlar said...

there are lots of people that will be no great loss to me when they die, but that doesn't mean i want to kill them

I used to think something like this...than I had to deal with a fair number of people who were truly horrible child abusers.

I think there are crimes that probably deserve death as a punishment. And when the facts are gruesome enough, I find that I do in fact want some people to die. A little creepy, but true.

When someone tortures and kills a little kid for fun, can you honestly say that you do not want that person to be killed? I find that I can't; hence, I'm not sure that I can categorically oppose capital punishment anymore -- a stance I held for many years.

Jacques Cuze said...

Dig Marklar the self-identified liberal. This links for you, and it is Ann Althouse approved!

My real question Ann, is what effect will "It's not working. It's not working" have on the current death by injection case in front of the Supreme Court?

Marghlar said...

Ah, Quxxo. Your inability to understand that not all political positions involve mindlessly agreeing with a list of approved positions waxes amusing. I'm familiar with the IP, and my wife worked for a while with a similar organization. Read my first comment, which suggested that such concerns might well make the death penalty impracticable.

But that is logically irrelevant to the question of whether it's proper or not to execute people, assuming we could correct such errors. The moral claim is different than than error rate concern.

You get one more ad hominem, or one more misspelling of my name, before you get ignored. Engage on substance, and maybe we can have a nice chat.

Jacques Cuze said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jacques Cuze said...

Marburg, which ad-hominem are you referring to? "self-identified liberal?"

I do beg of you, please, please Brer Marburg, whatever you do, don't take away our ability to chat!

Marghlar said...

I'd say it was nice talking with you quxxo, but it never has been. G'night.

Jacques Cuze said...

Apropos of "It's not working...." and the Innocence Project is this report in the Times: Faulty Testimony Sent 2 to Death Row, Panel Finds

Actual working lawyer (defense lawyer) Jeralyn Merritt summarizes it as: Death penalty proponents like to say that it has never been established that an innocent person has been executed in the United States. That may no longer be the case. Arson experts have found that Texas executed a man whose crime may not have been a crime at all. The fire for which he was executed appears to have been an accidental one. Junk science and inadequately trained experts are the culprit.

Bissage said...

Marghlar said: "I'd say the best compromise is to execute only in the very worst cases (thus, getting the most added value out of the execution, and adding deterrence where we need it most)."

Couldn't agree more.

Simon said...

Dave:
"i think we've had the 'blood on our hands' discussion before . . . i'd prefer to have the 'lethal injection is cruel and unusual' debate. more evidence in favor of injection being removed/ammended is always welcome."

But those are very different discussions. Whether the death penalty in general, lethal injection more specifically, or any one given protocol used for lethal injection offends the cruel and unusual punishments clause is a very different debate to the moral debate about whether and how capital punishment should be administered.

TWM said...

I am for capital punishment, but would be willing to change my mind if we really punished people for these heinous crimes.

Did you see "Ben Hur?" Well, when we lock up these murderers the way they locked up his mother and sister (unjustly in their case obviously) -- the door was rusted shut and the only way the guard knew they were alive was because the food disappeared -- then we can do away with it.

Until then I feel like others have said here, some people just deserve to be killed for what they have done.

As to a humane way to carry out this punishment, well, Chief Gillespe explained what we should do after having witnessed an execution in an episode of "In The Heat Of The Night." He said the only humane way would be to tell the person they were free and then shoot them in the back of the head while they were happy.

I don't know about the ruse -- that actually seems cruel to me -- but a shot in the back of the head is quick and painless unlike the so-called humane ways we do it now.

And I don't think you can judge the value of capital punishment on a cost-benefit basis. It's about justice, not economics. Or it should be anyway.l

Jacques Cuze said...

Well, when we lock up these murderers the way they locked up his mother and sister (unjustly in their case obviously) -- the door was rusted shut and the only way the guard knew they were alive was because the food disappeared -- then we can do away with it.

Ironic parody! Brilliant Sir! Well played!

TWM said...

Irony? Parody? I don't see either in what I said, but, hey, you do look at things through a different lens that most people, bud.

Bissage said...

SippicanCottage should be here any minute now.

jeff said...

I'm a Christian and I'm against the death penalty.

OTOH I think we spend way too much on prisoners who are never going to leave prison. It would be interesting to see what could be done in designing a low-maintenence prison without any real facilities, where the inmates are fed pre-prepared meals totalling between 1500 and 2000 calories a day. Put it in the middle of nowhere with large amounts of empty space around it.

Smilin' Jack said...

Well, I'm not sure what to think of those who oppose the death penalty on grounds of Christian charity, and then indulge in sadistic fantasies of what should be done to condemned inmates instead.

My only objection to the death penalty is that it results from the operation of the police and courts, which are staffed by the same kind of governmental f-ups who run the DMV, IRS, etc. Since that makes verdicts about as reliable as the Post Office, I'm as reluctant to weld inmates into cells etc. as to kill them.

Joe said...

On humane methods of execution, I think quick is the way to go - firing squad, probably. The electric chair always seemed to me to be a 19th century notion of a modern, high tech execution. Just as lethal injection is considered to be today, but now we are seeing problems with that method.
I like the shot to the back of the head idea.

Marghlar said...

Shot to the back of the head is really, really messy though. And forces somebody to be the individual trigger man, which is a hard thing to demand of another person.

Ann Althouse said...

Joe said..."On humane methods of execution, I think quick is the way to go - firing squad, probably..."

From Norman Mailer's "The Executioner's Song," describing the autopsy of Gary Gilmore, exectued by firing squad:

He skinned Gilmore right up over his shoulders like taking a shirt half off, and with a saw cut right up the breastbone to the throat, and removed the breastplate and set it in a big, open sink with running water. Then, he took out what was left of Gilmore's heart. Jerry Scott couldn't believe what he saw. The thing was pulverized. Not even half left. Jerry didn't recognize it as the heart. Had to ask the doctor. "Excuse me," he said, "is that it?" The doctor said, "Yup."

"Well, he didn't feel anything, did he?" asked Jerry Scott. The doctor said, "No." Jerry had been looking at the bullet pattern earlier, and there had been four neat little holes you could have covered with a water glass, all within a half inch of each other. The doctors had been careful to take quite a few pictures. They numbered every hole with a Magic Marker, and turned Gary over to photograph where each bullet exited from his back. Looking at those marks, Jerry could see the guys on the firing squad hadn't been shaky at all. You could tell they'd all squeezed off a good shot.

Of course, Jerry was always thinking about getting shot himself. It could happen any time on duty. He had to keep wondering what it would be like. Now, looking at the heart, he repeated, "He didn't feel anything, did he?" The doctor said, "No, nothing." Jerry said, "Well, did he move around after he was shot?" The doctor said, "Yes, about two minutes." "Was that just nerves?" Jerry asked. The fellow said, "Yes," and added, "He was dead, but we had to officially wait until he quit moving. That was about two minutes later."

jeff said...

Smilin' Jack - so what is sadistic about my proposal? You think we ought to have prisons with all the bennies of a community college and a 4-star restaurant to boot?

Sheesh.

You'd think I'd recommended all the fixtures be wired to 50v to shock the inmates when touched or something.

Aspasia M. said...

And forces somebody to be the individual trigger man, which is a hard thing to demand of another person.

I've always thought it was a heavy burden to put on anyone - to be the person who turned on the switch, or did anything else which actively contributed to the killing of another person.

The state is asking people to be the "executioner" outside of the heat of battle. People at the prison often know the person who is going to die. Is it fair to ask the prison employee to carry that burden?

Balfegor said...

Is it fair to ask the prison employee to carry that burden?

A normal prison employee? No, that sounds like it would be beyond the scope of his employment. But an executioner? Yes. I don't know whether we still have a specialised office of executioner, but I recall reading (on an airplane flight a year or two ago) about the retirement of a man whose job was "executioner," (or hangman or something like that), and in that case, it is perfectly fair. The office is also apparently quite popular -- I also recall reading in that same article that people applied for the office in significant numbers. These are not, perhaps, the kind of people we want implementing executions. Not the right sort, not quite respectable. But nevertheless, there are many people for whom it is no real burden at all.

Execution has been a regular feature of all civilised societies I am aware of, at least up until the very recent past, and while for the past century or two, the better sort have generally regarded it as a messy, unpleasant business -- all the worse because hanging apparently gives the hanged man an erection or something, which is embarassing -- they have not balked. "Danny Deever," and all. There are some exceptions -- Churchill seems to have been tickled by the thought of sticking Nazis in the electric chair -- but this is generally the way it seems to have been seen: an unpleasant duty.

Joe said...

Hanging can go wrong and be very cruel. Ann's post from Executioner's Song, and those pointing out the burden on a single executioner, convince me that I was right to recommend firing squad.
None of it is pretty, but the firing squad is quick and painless, and spreads the responsibility among the squad. I think that one rifle is loaded with a blank cartridge so the shooters can indulge themselves in the possibility that they did not participate in the actual execution.

Smilin' Jack said...

Now, looking at the heart, he repeated, "He didn't feel anything, did he?" The doctor said, "No, nothing."

And just how would the doctor know that? Seems to me this would feel like a massive heart attack, which anyone who has survived one can tell you is far from painless.

I wouldn't want to die by firing squad unless they were aiming for the head...and were good shots.

Ann Althouse said...

Smilin' Jack: I always assumed Mailer intended for us to be very skeptical of what the doctor said.

Marghlar said...

You know what would be a good method? Replace the oxygen in a room with nitrogen gas. Air hunger is reportedly caused by excess CO2, not by lack of 02, so there wouldn't be a feeling that you can't get your breath. You'd just get sleepy, slip into unconsciousness, and die within a fairly quick time frame.

No mess, and no pain.

SteveR said...

Well I can't resist..

I can't imagine getting shot by a firing squad feels any worse than what happens to that baby coming down the birth canal. Maybe the IP should take up some of those cases.

Aspasia M. said...

Marghlar! Stever!

I can't imagine getting shot by a firing squad feels any worse than what happens to that baby coming down the birth canal.

Y'all have offically jumped the shark!
--------

For the record, I don't think the state should be involved in executions.

Although I can sympathize with the wish to kill some people who have done hideous things.

If the state, however, insists on doing it, I kind of think it should be public and not hidden behind walls. The privatization of public execution is a bit contradictory, no?

Marghlar said...

geoduck -- I'd agree that executions should be public. But more and more, I am unable to convince myself that it is categorically wrong to take the life of someone who has repeatedly been willing to murder others.

I also think that the extraordinary costs of giving adequate process to ensure ourselves that the defendant is really and truly guilty make execution too costly to be worthwhile in all but the very worst cases.

I didn't mean to shock or offend by the nitrogen comment -- I meant it in good faith, as an attempt to offer a method of execution that is less prone to error than lethal injection, that is less painful if botched, and less mutiliating than bullets. But I'm sorry if I offended.

SteveR said...

geoduck; jumped the shark? I'm not the one concerned about pain and what is cruel and unusual in regards to condemed murderers. Based on what someone opined, I offered my opinion. It's America, I'm not telling you what to think or feel or what the law should be. You could at last tell me why I jumped the shark since its "official" and one can assume you are the judge of such things.

Simon said...

Marghlar said...
"Shot to the back of the head is really, really messy though."

That's true, and while I would agree that the goal should be to minimize suffering for the person being executed (a side benefit of the shot to the head, of course, is organ harvesting, but that's a different question), the problem becomes that the messier it is, the easier it is for the anti death penalty lobby to say "look how awful this barbarous practise looks!" Not for nothing does one occaisionally see stuff from pro-life organizations depicting the recognizably human results of an abortion: because it works. It provokes a visceral reaction, even (perhaps especially) in those who like to kid themelves that this is all just a question of reproductive choice. Likewise, if we started executing people in a way that was genuinely and undoubtedly humane, but none-the-less rather messy, I suspect you would start seeing pictures of executed inmates with their faces missing being sent out by anti-death penalty groups.

Aspasia M. said...

"baby coming down the birth canal."

Uh- I thought this was a joke.

My tone got lost - I laughed after reading Marghlar's & Stever's last comments.

Yes, I thought it was all a bit macabe, but I wasn't offended, I was amused by the baby comment.

Aspasia M. said...

Marghlar and SteveR,

I'm worried that I didn't make this clear - I wasn't offended.

It reminded me of one of my classes on the history of crime & punishment where we discussed public versus private punishment. We always ended up discussing the macabe in theoretical, yet graphic ways.

SteveR said...

Geoduck,

I was actually referring to intact dilation and extraction. Its just always been ironic that some one gets emotionally upset that a convicted murderer might suffer a moment or two of pain or discomfort before execution. Not even considering what pain and discomfort might be associated with years in jail preceeding the execution, or in lieu of it.

Marghlar said...

Oh, Ok. Yeah, it is funny how people can calmly discuss things that in real life would probably mess them up a fair amount.

History of crime and punishment? That sounds like an interesting class. I often worry that one problem with the way we learn law is that it gets a-historical -- we lose a context for things with a long common law tradition. Plus, they had all the good names for things -- like "mayhem." Horrible crime, but an awesome name for a crime.

On the public/private thing: I think we should be forced to witness executions, so that we don't get overcomfortable with it, but I worry that it just ends up desensitizing people. Think of the way that hangings in England became public entertainment. It seems like there is a realm of barbarism when executions become either too public or too private...

Aspasia M. said...

Teaching the history of crime and punishment was a fun class.

I concentrated on the 18th and 19th century and the switch from physical public punishment to asylum/incarceration/private punishment.

(ie- the transition of whippings/stocks,ect. in the town square to the popularity of incarceration as a state punishment.)

The students loved talking about all the macabe subjects. So did I. This may reflect badly on us.

-------
On the birth sentence that I thought was a joke:

I thought we were going to sue somebody for women experiencing pain while giving birth.

(Which, might, actually, be kind of a fun lawsuit. I.E.: A mother arguing that the state owes her money for both her pain and suffering and for giving birth & contributing to the state's citizenry.)

Aspasia M. said...

The most interesting discussion my class had was about the utility and morality of torture/physical punishment.

I was teaching the class prior to 9/11. One outspoken student tended to argue that physical punishment (torture) ought to be considered as a state punishment. Another group of students argued against her that torture/physical punishment was never acceptable as a state punishment.

Then 9/11 happened. These two groups switched their positions! It was really interesting. Given a specific situation of the use of torture - these individuals changed their minds.

Torture became acceptable to the group who was previously arguing that it was a cruel and unusual punishment & unconstitutional. They had previously employed the classical late 18th century arguments about why physical state punishment was a bad idea in defending their arguments.

The one maverick previously in support of physical punishment changed her mind once it became less theoretical.

That was particularly interesting to me.

SteveR said...

I was too imprecise, not wanting to totally go off topic, but I can understand your interpretation.

Happens at home all the time.

Marghlar said...

That switch you describe is really interesting.

For me, a willingness to accept corporal punishment flows from my increasing willingness to view capital punishment as morally acceptable in the worst cases. If it is ever proper to kill someone, surely it is a lesser punishment to inflict pain upon them. I'd generally think that only non-mutilating punishments are acceptable, and always only in proprotion to offense level.

I think that this would make for far shorter necessary incarceration periods for most crimes, which would probably increase the likelihood that people could reintegrate into society when they are released. And it would be coupled with real and systematic prison reform, to get rid of the gangs and inmate on inmate violence (which is often used as a sort of crude punishment by our society, in a way I find disgusting).

Lastly, I would drastically reduce the punishment levels for non-violent offenses, especially drug use and possession. Not too long ago, I watched part of the trial of a man facing thirty years for dealing in a few grand worth of crack. That kind of punishment is grotesque, expensive and bad for society.

I would love to have taken your class -- it sounds fascinating.