Monday, March 26, 2012

Executions Gone Wrong

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From spontaneous combustion to torture by needle, our nation’s death penalty has shown some flaws. Where do we draw the line between what is or is not humane during the execution of a convicted felon? Do we just call it as part of the nasty business of execution? Whatever the answer we must first understand our capital punishment and its history before we can understand, and hopefully correct, the errors.

The first established death penalty laws date as far back as the Eighteenth Century B.C. in the Code of King Hammaurabi of Babylon, which codified the death penalty for 5 different crimes. The death penalty was also part of the Fourteenth Century B.C.s Hittite Code; in the Seventh Century B.C.s Draconian Code of Athens, which made death the only punishment for all crimes; and in the Fifth Century B.C.s Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets. Death sentences were carried out by such means as crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement. The nation has since matured with the passage of time. Although we continue to execute those who have done wrong we employ technology to make the process more ‘humane’. Death by execution is now enforced with lethal injection, electrocution, death by firing squad, hanging, and the gas chamber. Of all these methods, more people are sentenced to death by lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A total of 0 death row inmates have been executed since 176, and 708 of them were executed by lethal injection and by firing squad. Of all these statistics very few were available as to the amount of executions gone wrong. Not a very well-known topic, but controversial none the less we have the botched executions from various states who have done little or nothing to correct the matter.

Of all the states who practice death by electrocution, the states that have the majority of botched executions are Texas, Alabama, and Florida. Reports of people bursting into flames during executions have increased over the last several years. The state’s response is either the person was oversized for the method used or there was some sort of malfunction with the equipment.

On July 8, 1 in Florida, Allen Lee Davis was executed by electrocution. Before he was pronounced dead ... the blood from his mouth had poured onto the collar of his white shirt, and the blood on his chest had spread to about the size of a dinner plate, even oozing through the buckle holes on the leather chest strap holding him to the chair.45 His execution was the first in Floridas new electric chair, built especially so it could accommodate a man Daviss size (approximately 50 pounds). Later, when another Florida death row inmate challenged the constitutionality of the electric chair, Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw commented that the color photos of Davis depict a man who -- for all appearances -- was brutally tortured to death by the citizens of Florida.46 Justice Shaw also described the botched executions of Jesse Tafero and Pedro Medina (q.v.), calling the three executions barbaric spectacles and acts more befitting a violent murderer than a civilized state.47 Justice Shaw included pictures of Daviss dead body in his opinion.48 The execution was witnessed by a Florida State Senator, Ginny Brown-Waite, who at first was shocked to see the blood, until she realized that the blood was forming the shape of a cross and that it was a message from God saying he supported the execution.4

Executions which were botched due to mechanical malfunction were said to be caused by a sponge, which is normally placed under the cap of the electrocution cap, which needed to be changed. This is something that should be carefully monitored as victims have been known to burst into flames for no other reason than a worn sponge.

There is not much better to be said about Lethal Injection. Reports of physicians taking anywhere from 0 minutes to 1 hour to find an appropriate vein and set up are more commonplace than not.

On June 8, 000 In Missouri, Bert Leroy Hunter’s time was up. Hunter was to be executed by means of Lethal Injection Hunter had an unusual reaction to the lethal drugs, repeatedly coughing and gasping for air before he lapsed into unconsciousness.5 An attorney who witnessed the execution reported that Hunter had violent convulsions. His head and chest jerked rapidly upward as far as the gurney restraints would allow, and then he fell quickly down upon the gurney. His body convulsed back and forth like this repeatedly. ... He suffered a violent and agonizing death.54

The question we must now ask ourselves is, ‘Is this humane, and does it make a difference?’ Some may argue that even though a person had to commit horrific crimes to be placed on death row, they are still humans and should be executed as such. I on the other hand tend to agree with the latter who argue, ‘For the victims who suffered much worse at this person’s hand, does it really matter? They are going to be killed anyway so why should we be overly concerned with their welfare?’ Most death row inmates are on death row from 5 to 10 years or more as they exhaust their appeals, and right to petition for a stay of execution. During this time we, the public, have had our hard earned money taxed to support these sociopaths who if set free would do worse to innocent people. No, I can’t say that the fact some of these executions were botched makes me loose sleep at night. I can’t say that I have but so much sympathy for those such as Hunter and Davis. I can say that the person in charge of execution should be a bit more careful to avoid unnecessary controversy.

Death Penalty Timeline by Death Penalty Information Online

Eighteenth Century B.C. - first established death penalty laws.

Eleventh Century A.D. - William the Conqueror will not allow persons to be hanged except in cases of murder.

1608 - Captain George Kendall becomes the first recorded execution in the new colonies.

16 - Jane Champion becomes the first woman executed in the new colonies.

1767 - Cesare Beccarias essay, On Crimes and Punishment, theorizes that there is no justification for the state to take a life.

Late 1700s - United States abolitionist movement begins.

Early 1800s - Many states reduce their number of capital crimes and build state penitentiaries.

18-187 - Over 100 of the crimes punishable by death in Britain are eliminated.

184 - Pennsylvania becomes the first state to move executions into correctional facilities.

188 - Discretionary death penalty statutes enacted in Tennessee.

1846 - Michigan becomes the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason.

180- William Kemmler becomes first person executed by electrocution.

Early 100s - Beginning of the Progressive Period of reform in the United States.

107-117 - Nine states abolish the death penalty for all crimes or strictly limit it.

10s - 140s - American abolition movement loses support.

14 - The use of cyanide gas introduced as an execution method

10s - Executions reach the highest levels in American history - average 167 per year.

148 - The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaiming a right to life.

150-180 - De facto abolition becomes the norm in Western Europe.

158 - Trop v. Dulles. Eighth Amendments meaning contained an evolving standard of decency that marked the progress of a maturing society.

166 - Support of capital punishment reaches all-time low. A Gallup poll shows support of the death penalty at only 4%.

168 - Witherspoon v. Illinois. Dismissing potential jurors solely because they express opposition to the death penalty held unconstitutional.

170 - Crampton v. Ohio and McGautha v. California. The Supreme Court approves of unfettered jury discretion and non-bifurcated trials.

June 17 - Furman v. Georgia. Supreme Court effectively voids 40 death penalty statutes and suspends the death penalty.

176 - Gregg v. Georgia. Guided discretion statutes approved. Death penalty reinstated

January 17, 177 - Ten-year moratorium on executions ends with the execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah.

177 - Oklahoma becomes the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution.

177 - Coker v. Georgia. Held death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for rape of an adult woman when the victim is not killed.

December 7, 18 - Charles Brooks becomes the first person executed by lethal injection.

184 - Velma Barfield becomes the first woman executed since reinstatement of the death penalty.

186 - Ford v. Wainwright. Execution of insane persons banned.

186 - Batson v. Kentucky. Prosecutor who strikes a disproportionate number of citizens of the same race in selecting a jury is required to rebut the inference of discrimination by showing neutral reasons for his or her strikes.

187 - McCleskey v. Kemp. Racial disparities not recognized as a constitutional violation of equal protection of the law unless intentional racial discrimination against the defendant can be shown.

188 - Thompson v. Oklahoma. Executions of offenders age fifteen and younger at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.

18 - Stanford v. Kentucky, and Wilkins v. Missouri. Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at age sixteen or seventeen.

18 - Penry v. Lynaugh. Executing persons with mental retardation is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

1 - Herrera v. Collins. In the absence of other constitutional grounds, new evidence of innocence is no reason for federal court to order a new trial.

14 - President Clinton signs the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act expanding the federal death penalty.

16 - President Clinton signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act restricting review in federal courts.

18 - Karla Faye Tucker and Judi Buenoano executed.

November, 18 Northwestern University holds the first-ever National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty. The Conference brings together 0 inmates who were freed from death row because of innocence.

January 1 - Pope John Paul II visits St. Louis, Missouri, and calls for an end to the death penalty.

April 1 - U.N. Human Rights Commission Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium On Executions.

June 1 - Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, signs a decree commuting the death sentences of all of the convicts on Russias death row.


45. Davis Execution Gruesome, GAINESVILLE SUN, July 8, 1, at 1A.

46. Provenzano v. State, 744 So.d 41, 440 (Fla. 1).

5. David Scott, Convicted Killer Who Once Asked to Die is Executed, ASSOCIATED PRESS, June 8, 000.

54. Letter from attorney Cheryl Rafert to Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, June 0, 000.

www.deathpenaltyinformation.com. Death by State.

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