09 February 2007

“It’s not working.”

The phrase in the post title allegedly was uttered by a criminal being executed in Ohio; as the lethal injection cocktail failed to have its intended effect, he raised his head and made this announcement to the prison staff and witnesses. He might as well have been talking about the process of capital punishment generally. I have noted the implications of this phenomenon here before, but this story in The New York Times Magazine seems especially damning. Note that a large proportion of the difficulties involved in the lethal injection cocktail arise because we don't want to offend the sensibilities of the audience - the witnesses to the execution or the public generally. That seems to me to be rank hypocrisy. I think that there should be a selection process, much like for jury duty but with very little room for exemption, where regular citizens are drafted to serve as witnesses to executions. Alternatively, we might conduct executions in a less sheltered ways - I often suggest to my avidly pro-death penalty students that they consider scenarios such as the one depicted in by Allen Steele in his short story "Doblin's Lecture" which you can find in The Best American Mystery Stories, 1997 (Mariner Books). I will let you track the story down instead of spoiling the ending.

[Images of show the injection chamber at the Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho, 1997 and the view from the witness room at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman, Miss., 1998. Both © Lucinda Devlin/Paul Rodgers/9W Gallery.]

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