Editorial: How best to kill someone

The recent, prolonged execution of an Arizona death row inmate has raised, once again, the question of how best to kill a human being condemned by his or her state’s court system.

First of all, let us reiterate our own position on the death penalty. We don’t believe, given the current state of our justice system, that the ultimate penalty should be applied, even in the most heinous cases.

That’s simply because every analysis shows that American justice is NOT blind, but instead is weighted toward those defendants who can afford the best lawyers and against those who cannot.

The evidence is clear and unassailable.

In addition, any possible deterrent effect capital punishment might have on a would-be murderer is hopelessly diluted by the hit-or-miss system we now have. No person contemplating a homicide can be absolutely sure they will be executed if caught. Some are, some aren’t. Some spend decades on death row.

Unless and until our system is uniform and justice is swift and sure — with absolutely no chance of a mistake — executing prisoners simply isn’t justified.

That said, it seems inconceivable that those state governments that insist on execution can’t manage to actually do it.

There was a time in this county when hanging was the standard form of capital punishment. This was done “scientifically” in the latter part of the 19th century (see the movie “Tom Horn” for a detailed view of the process), but then the feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse intervened and Edison felt compelled to create the electric chair and donate it to the state of New York. He was mainly interested in demonstrating the danger of alternating current, but this new and improved method caught the public’s imagination as being “more humane.”

In the 1920s, some states began to use cyanide gas, in a special chamber. This method is still legal in some areas, but has been superseded by lethal injection, which first came into vogue in the 1970s.

The problems began when European suppliers of a three-drug combination used for lethal injection for more than three decades. — reacting to public pressure against capital punishment — began to refuse to sell them to states that wanted to use them for executions. Georgia, Texas and Missouri now use single doses of compounded pentobarbital, an anesthetic similar to the drug used to put pets to sleep.

But domestic suppliers of this drug are drying up, again under pressure. And attempts to find other combinations haver resulted in botched executions, drawing widespread criticism.

The hard fact is that killing someone without subjecting them to “cruel and unusual punishment” is a contradiction in terms ... and that’s put many states in a corner they’re having trouble finding a way out of.

In the meantime, 26 people have died by lethal injection in the US this year.

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