Patterico's Pontifications


A Look At The Death Penalty

Filed under: General — Dana @ 10:10 am

[guest post by Dana]

Yesterday, Joseph Rudolph Wood III was executed by lethal injection in Arizona. It took him nearly two hours to die.

His attorneys argued that he gasped and snorted throughout the ordeal, and referred to it as a “botched execution” and as such, it would fan the flames of the national debate about the death penalty.

It took so long for Wood to die after receiving an injection of midazolam combined with hydromorphone that his attorneys had time to file an emergency appeal asking officials to save his life as the drugs apparently failed to fully take hold.

“At 1:57 p.m [officials] reported that Mr. Wood was sedated, but at 2:02 he began to breathe,” said the legal filing in federal court from public defender Jon M. Sands. “At 2:03 his mouth moved. Mr. Wood has continued to breathe since that time. He has been gasping and snorting for more than an hour. At 3:02 p.m. … staff rechecked for sedation. He is still alive.”

However, contrary to the claims made by Wood’s attorneys, Stephanie Grisham of the Arizona Attorney General’s office disagreed, claiming that Wood was not gasping, but rather snoring:

There was no gasping of air. There was snoring. He just laid there. It was quite peaceful.

Governor Brewer also weighed in. Due to the length of time it took for Woods to be executed, she ordered the Department of Corrections to do a full review:

“One thing is certain, however, inmate Wood died in a lawful manner and by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer,” Brewer said in a statement. “This is in stark comparison to the gruesome, vicious suffering that he inflicted on his two victims – and the lifetime of suffering he has caused their family.”

A few days prior to Wood’s execution, writing in a dissent to Wood’s appeal, U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski discussed the harsh reality of an execution, and an execution by lethal injection:

“Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moments.

“But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”


Kozinski said he has voted in favor of capital punishment and remains “generally not opposed to the death penalty.” But he said states should scrap lethal injection protocols, which have flooded the federal courts with constitutional challenges.

“I personally think we should go to the guillotine, but shooting is probably the right way to go,” Kozinski said.

The guillotine was quick and “pretty much foolproof,” he said, but probably would not be accepted by the public. A firing squad would be “messy but effective.”

*His dissent could be read as much as an indictment of capital punishment as a call for harsher methods, however. He cited California’s inability to execute anyone since 2006 because of legal challenges.

“Old age, not execution, is the most serious risk factor for inmates at the San Quentin death row,” he wrote.

In calling for firing squads, Kozinski said, “Eight or 10 large-caliber rifle bullets fired at close range can inflict massive damage, causing instant death every time.”

“If we as a society cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by a firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”

The background of the dissent is at the second link.

A few reactions to his comments:

“He is invested in being provocative,” UC Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring said. “And what he is doing is reacting to the way in which the public relations halo around lethal injection has dissolved in calendar year 2014.”

“Kozinski has always been a judge willing to push the boundaries. He’ll say things others are thinking but are afraid to admit,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA. “Whether one agrees with his endorsement of firing lines, he’s making an important point. We keep the death penalty, but try to mask it’s brutality.”


60 Responses to “A Look At The Death Penalty”

  1. Last time the guillotine was used in France was in 1977. Star Wars was in the theaters.

    Y’all probably already know this.

    Pious Agnostic (7eb3b0)

  2. No, it took him 23-years to die, but die he did.
    Good Riddance.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  3. I hated the lethal injection idea when it started because it seemed so clinical and “medical”. And I hate it more and more as time has gone on and we’ve seen some very badly botched situations along with ongoing arguments over which lethal concoctions to use for best results. In states where there’s a death penalty they need to return to the tried and true instant death for the condemned of hanging or firing squad.

    elissa (d14cd1)

  4. I’m with askeptic on this. He’s dead so there was no “botching” involved. And for 23 years he had better health care than our vets. Say hi to jeebus…

    Gazzer (e04ef7)

  5. Why do they need to use drugs at all? Wouldn’t 50cc of air injected into a vein accomplish the same thing as all these Rube Goldberg cocktails? And who has standing to sue God with the contention that this is an improper use of air?

    Russ from Winterset (830aac)

  6. 1. i’m not sure why there is all the fuss and bother about which drugs to give: stopping a patient’s heart is a routine procedure done with cardiac surgeries. all we have to do is use the same procedures for the first part of the surgery on the criminal. /problem solved

    2. of course, a firing squad made up of citizen volunteers would be a simple way to go forward from here. i doubt the criminal protection fans would be too enthused about protesting at the home or office of anyone willing to pull the trigger as a member of one… 😎

    redc1c4 (abd49e)

  7. How would you fire your gun with one hand, red?

    Leviticus (8e0232)

  8. Maybe they ought to hire veterinarians as executioners.

    Do you suppose the doctors who they recruit for this are doing this sort of work because they’re incompetent? I’m often surprised at the number of forensic pathologists who seem to have their positions in spite of checkered careers and positions lost due to gross mistakes.

    Art Deco (ee8de5)

  9. He died so it worked. Fail to see the problem.

    njrob (396a12)

  10. I’d like to see California designate a cliff as the executioners stone or condemned person’s jumping off point.

    Vultures need to eat too.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  11. I support the death penalty as a lot of republicans deserve capital punishment bush cheney neocons kissinger republicans on the supreme court and congress ect. ect.

    vota (2ba64b)

  12. ovaltine time perry

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  13. Phart alert on Aisle-11!

    askeptic (efcf22)

  14. vota – You just yearn for the good old days when Democrats could kill their slaves without any need for explanation because they were property or gather up a bunch of Klan buddies and have themselves a nice extrajudicial negro lynching without fear of repercussions. Tough to bring to past back o hatey racist one.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  15. Perry’s calls for genocide against those he hates are always so special.

    JD (b70a8e)

  16. How would you fire your gun with one hand, red?
    Leviticus (8e0232) — 7/24/2014 @ 11:30 am

    Epic fail.

    Gazzer (e04ef7)

  17. I’d also include the provision, if the condemned survives the fall and can crawl away, all his prior sins are forgiven, and the video will be forwarded to MTV.

    That gives them a hope, which is the opposite of cruel. We could encourage bleeding hearts to stand in the splatter zone with nets.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  18. Leviticus has probably never held any type of light-weight rifle/carbine, or even a good “old-fashioned” M1911.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  19. papertiger (c2d6da) — 7/24/2014 @ 12:43 pm

    Law & Order types at the top of the cliff as ‘pushers’, and the Bleeding Hearts at the bottom as ‘catchers’.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  20. I’d like to see California designate a cliff as the executioners stone or condemned person’s jumping off point.

    Vultures need to eat too.

    I nominate The Golden Gate Bridge. Bodies would be carried out to see, to be eaten by local marine fauna, and likely never to wash up on shore. And it would be in full view of all the far-left liberals in San Francisco. Win-win.

    Chuck Bartowski (11fb31)

  21. concrete shoes
    handkerchief shoals
    great white frenzy

    mg (31009b)

  22. Two words:

    Nitrogen asphyxiation. Because CO2 levels never increase there is no sense of suffocation, just a slow slide out.

    Captain Ned (ff2d65)

  23. This is why I’m in favor of placing the condemned inmate into a cell awaiting execution. Then when his time is up, the ceiling drops on him. A large granite block should do the trick.

    Then just hose off the floor. Good to go. No suffering involved.

    Dejectedhead (a094a6)

  24. Chuck Bartowski (11fb31) — 7/24/2014 @ 12:52 pm

    Chuck, you’ll probably not be surprised to hear that the good City Fathers in Baghdad-by-the-Bay have decided to spend about $76MM to ‘suicide-proof’ the Golden Gate Bridge.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  25. I hated the lethal injection idea when it started because it seemed so clinical and “medical”.

    Exactly. There are methods of execution that are not particularly gruesome and result in quick death. Hanging, firing squad, cranial gunshot. We use bolt guns on cattle and that is considered humane. There are choices that do not involve all the medical details, procedure and 3rd-party obstruction of lethal injection. Sure, electric chairs and gas chambers are medieval, and the headsman is probably not coming back, but there are choices.

    There real problem though is passive aggressiveness on the part of deceitful government officials.

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  26. While I believe that the death penalty ought to be certain and fairly soon after conviction (allowing for reasonable appeals), there needs to be a level of certainty by the jury that is over and above that required for non-capital crimes.

    So, the standard of conviction necessary to proceed to a penalty phase should be “certainty.” To reinforce that I would require a member of the jury, chosen by lot, to give final approval at the time of execution. Failure to do so would commute the sentence to life without parole.

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  27. Nitrogen asphyxiation.

    Not bad. In fact, you don’t even need to tell him. Just one day his airtight cell has the oxygen turned off. You could also use carbon monoxide, whose effect is similar.

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  28. I support the death penalty as a lot of republicans deserve capital punishment bush cheney neocons kissinger republicans on the supreme court and congress ect. ect.

    But if you want money for people with minds that hate
    All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

    You say you’ll change the constitution
    Well, you know
    We all want to change your head
    You tell me it’s the institution
    Well, you know
    You’d better free your mind instead

    But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
    You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

    Also, what does “ect” mean?

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  29. “Yesterday, Joseph Rudolph Wood III was executed by lethal injection in Arizona. It took him nearly two hours to die”

    He kept holllllllldin’ O-o-on to yesterday…

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  30. One-eyed Satan waiting at the Gates of Hell asked Wood “do you want to die or do you want to live?”

    Wood said, “hwooden I, hwooden I !!!”
    Satan said, “harelip, harelip” and the rest is history…

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  31. There was an emergency medicine doc on the radio today. First thing he did was freak the host out but stating that he supported the death penalty. Then he explained that the human body may continue gasping for breath after death occurs (not uncommon in the ER to certify death while the body is still attempting to breath). The only way to prevent this is to administer a paralytic. That is not done because it would mask any actual pain reactions. He said that there was virtually no way that the inmate could feel anything with those dosages of anesthesia.

    It was much harder on the spectators than the inmate.

    mark (59e563)

  32. Sentencing someone to death is an ugly matter, certainly nothing to be cavalier about. It is a serious matter. With that, at a certain point it would seem that attempts to be as humane as possible almost gets in the way of goal. Lethal injection seems visually humane (aside from the botched jobs), and if that’s the goal – to be humane – then what other option is there? If the goal is to execute in the most expedient and effective manner, then a firing squad would seem to be the route to take. I guess it depends on what one’s definition of “humane” is. For some it would be the appearance of a quiet slipping away. For others, it would be the fastest way possible. It comes down to how much and what kind of suffering is one required to endure to reach the same end goal.

    Dana (6041fe)

  33. Kosinski is provocative, as in trying to provoke thought,

    what Winkler doesm’t qualify:

    narciso (ee1f88)

  34. narciso,

    I agree he wants us to think about it, to understand the gravity of the decision and all that that entails. However, this, absolutely in and of itself, is spot-on:

    If we as a society cannot stomach the splatter from an execution carried out by a firing squad, then we shouldn’t be carrying out executions at all.”

    It’s important to fully realize the high cost of the decision as well.

    Dana (6041fe)

  35. is it regretable Wood suffered, yes, although the fact it took a quarter century for justice to occur,
    is more regretable

    narciso (ee1f88)

  36. guilty
    oak branch

    mg (31009b)

  37. Chairman Mao had this execution thing figured out. He’d have the target shot, and then charge the target’s family for the ammunition expended. Pol Pot did him one better, ball peen hammers were the mechanism of choice. No need to charge the family. But of course the family was also exterminated so the bill would not be honored in any event. For both tyrants, their targets were Enemies of the State, and not just murderers. Many could read, and others simply knew too much. Vicious murderers, meanwhile, found a home in the governing apparatus.

    It is a remarkable oversight on our part that we elected a person who has intentionally kept himself almost totally ignorant of history as our President. We are now in the position where “Washington correspondents” of Fox News explain HteWon’s failures by commenting that these policies are quite rational because HteWon believes that all the evil in the world is a response to American policies. So by eviserating America’s presence in the foreign policy arena, eventually all the evil will disappear. It’s quite rational if one accepts the underlying premise.

    And the oceans will stop rising real soon now. About the time the glaciers begin their slow accumulation and eventually march south, crushing NYC. Which will be small recompense for the
    rest of us.

    bobathome (5ccbd8)

  38. I was a tad disconcerted when I read the drugs used…basically valium and morphine, huh? Asked the ex (who’s a veterinarian) and she concurred: unless you pack that stuff in the subject is extremely sedated. They need the phenobarbitol. Alas, most Euro Pharm won’t sell it to us, for this reason

    Angelo (89bc04)

  39. Pancuronium will paralyze breathing, and potassium chlorite will stop the heart. Any powerful sedative/anesthetic can be used in place of phenobarbital for comfort. Availability of lethal drugs is not a real issue, it’s just that death penalty opponents are messing with it every way they can, witness the 23 years it took to execute him.

    nk (dbc370)

  40. His attorneys argued that he gasped and snorted throughout the ordeal

    Knowing their ideological predisposition, if they pretended Joseph Wood was a 8-month-old fetus, they could shrug at what happened to the life in question and call it a day. And, no, liberal supporters of abortion from A to Z (hello, Obama!): An innocent new life gearing up to be born is a bit different — just a tad bit different — from that of a ruthless, murderous adult.

    Mark (e0cf5e)

  41. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Instead of engaging in a kaffeeklatsch meta-analysis of Alex’s statements, Prof. Zimring could address the issue of how backwards our “compassionate” means of killing people has become.

    If our goal in an execution is to carry it out painlessly, swiftly, and accurately, a firing squad would be almost ideal. Yet death penalty abolitionists do not argue for their client to have access to firing squads; they ask for different cocktails of drugs, novel methods of administration, or more disclosure of the source of manufacture. Neither do they ask for the convicted to have their choice among several approved methods of execution, which would seem to be the most humane path: as each individual could chose the risks and the benefits that best suit his own psyche. An unconstitutional method of execution does not become constitutional simply because it is the only available alternative to another unconstitutional method, but such an approach would seem to minimise the torture of the convicted.

    bridget (37b281)

  42. Coming to a neighborhood near you, rioters will burn their own cities to the ground and blow each others ‘head clean off’.

    This, despite gun laws, laws against arson, looting and undisciplined mayhem.

    gary gulrud (46ca75)

  43. …witness the 23 years it took to execute him.

    I always thought it was only California that dragged its feet in carrying out the death sentence…

    Blacque Jacques Shellacque (a553b9)

  44. AZ is also in the 9th-Circuit.

    As to the Chinese, it is my understanding that once a death sentence has been proclaimed, the prisoner is put in a special one-man cell, and when the door opens he must kneel in the center of the cell facing away from the door. If he hears the door close, he can then stand up, and resume his routine. After the execution by a single gunshot to the back of the head, his family is sent a bill for the burial, and the cartridge.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  45. I have long been aware of mixed feelings about the death penalty, but I don’t feel like reciting the whole history. Suffice to say that I think that all of my objections are answered by this procedure:

    Every person convicted of a capital crime should be confined in a cell on death row.

    Each cell on death row to br provided with a pistol and a single cartridge, and a way to safely (for the prison keeper) to accept the cartridge in return for such things as meals, exercise, and so forth–after which the cartridge would be returned to the prisoner.

    Larry Sheldon (acbb4f)

  46. Currently in the process of watching another loved one die of cancer. A sweet, dear person.
    Many thousands if not millions of decent people face fates far more cruel and unusual through natural cycles of life & death, disease, accident and…yes…crime than these convicted criminals face via execution. I see no reason why their crimes should net them an exemption from the lottery that we all face when it comes to our end because the state “must” guarantee them a peacefull painfree death with dignity…so when it comes to botched executions like this, cry me a river.

    Mike S. (f5d617)

  47. So, the standard of conviction necessary to proceed to a penalty phase should be “certainty.” To reinforce that I would require a member of the jury, chosen by lot, to give final approval at the time of execution.

    This is why the Bible says that the witnesses to a capital crime must personally carry out the execution. This prospect will tend to make them take what they’re doing seriously.

    Milhouse (c63fe5)

  48. Greetings:

    Of course, what rarely seems to be included in these post deserved mortems is that chemical injections were foisted off on our various governments by the anti-death penalty folks because they declared other methods too cruel and too unusual. So, when our various governments decided to do their kowtows for reasons of political expediency, those noble, if not forthright, anti-guys wnet ahead an started undermining the procedures they advocated by attacking the participation of the medical profession and the drug makers.

    11B40 (844d04)

  49. @ #27 Kevin M:

    No, sealing off the cell won’t work. It’s the rise in CO2 levels that causes the bodily response “I can’t breathe”. In a nitrogen asphyxiation chamber there would be free exchange of the atmosphere within to ensure no CO2 buildup but all replacement gas would be nitrogen. After all, it’s already 79% of what we breathe every day.

    Deep sea divers know a malady called “nitrogen narcosis”, in which excess levels of nitrogen (for the depth) cause euphoria and an inability to stay on task, which is why truly deep diving uses O2, H2, and He. In an execution situation, in a chamber of 100% nitrogen and 0% CO2 it is quite possible that the condemned would go out while in nitrogen narcosis.

    As for me, I’m with Kozinski. The guillotine may be bloody, but it’s fool-proof. Alas, the Reign of Terror pretty much eliminates that as a method. After that, it’s English judicial hangings performed by extremely skilled executioners.

    Captain Ned (ff2d65)

  50. Well, no. Anti-death penalty folk did not foist off lethal injection. They opposed it vehemently because it made the executions easier to stomach. The lethal injection machine was a freakish invention by some death-cultist (who the hell designs execution devices?) who apparently was also a very good salesman. It was originally three remotely controlled injectors which, once the line was in the “subject”, injected massive doses of 1) a sedative (sodium pentothal) 2) a muscle “relaxant” (pancuronium bromide) and 3) an elecrolyte (potassium chlorite) to stop the heart. In doses that were individually fatal. And it worked pretty good, too, until they started messing with the drugs.

    nk (dbc370)

  51. The abortion industry terminates over one million human lives annually in America alone. Not only are their chemical and physical methods for ending life considered humane, but they are, with few exceptions, over 100% effective. With nearly half a century of experience, the last rites can be read at Planned Parenthood, the last breath drawn at an abortion clinic, and the last remains disposed in a hazardous waste receptacle or flushed in a toilet.

    n.n (30458c)

  52. a freakish invention by some death-cultist

    Dr. Jack Kevorkian comes to mind for one.

    As to using a sealed chamber:
    The gas you want to introduce is not see-oh-two (Carbon Di-Oxide), but see-oh: Carbon Monoxide.
    CO when it enters the blood stream prevents red-cells from bonding with oxygen molecules. You’ll start to notice a head-ache and eventually just go to sleep, from which you will not awake.
    It is called the Silent Killer.

    askeptic (efcf22)

  53. No, sealing off the cell won’t work

    Well, not sealing off the cell won’t work because of the law of partial pressure. The cell has to be airtight before changing the mixture will be possible. Adding CO will do the same as removing oxygen, as carbon monoxide bonds to hemoglobin better than oxygen does.

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  54. I note that you have a seal around a larger box than the cell, but the seal is still there. Potayto potahto.

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  55. Someone on deathrow did another person in. Attonement should be a part of the sentence.
    This is what I have against every form of execution discussed so far (including my own suggestion).
    It damages otherwise healthy organs which could be harvested to attone for the crime.
    Giving the life back to someone who needs a kidney or liver transplant.

    I mean as long as we’re going to pretend we have a say in the thing.

    papertiger (c2d6da)

  56. I could make a good argument that the TV show “Perry Mason” was instrumental in turning people against the death penalty. Week after week Perry defended innocent people the state was hellbent on sending to the gas chamber, and after 9 seasons of that people might start to think there was some chance of innocent people being executed. The show ran from 1957-1966, which is roughly the period where the death penalty came under fire. In California, there were no executions between 1967 and 1992 and it wasn’t just because of liberals — Ronald Reagan was governor of California 1967-1975.

    Kevin M (b357ee)

  57. I second the idea of citizen volunteers for the executions. Use a .30-06 – it will do massive internal damage, and I’m sure there are enough death penalty advocates to pull the trigger.

    OmegaPaladin (f4a293)

  58. We haven’t had these problems with lethal injection in Texas.

    It’s not hard to kill someone deliberately, if the people designing and implementing the procedure know what they’re doing and are competent.

    On this issue, I actually disagree with Judge Kozinski (which is not common). Executions should be drama-free. The point of a capital sentence is not the act of execution itself, it’s the deprivation of the capital murderer’s life; that’s why we don’t precede our executions with torture. Executions should be done with quiet dignity, not violence. A matter-of-fact, entirely clinical, emotionally sterile proceeding is what’s needed. And I think that’s the way it’s done, and been done since the early 1980s, in Texas.

    Beldar (fa637a)

  59. Executions should be drama-free … Executions should be done with quiet dignity, not violence./em>

    By default, how can an execution really be drama-free? Likley it’s a different kind of drama you are referring to, but no matter, a person is still being killed. That in itself, no matter how clean, has a built-in drama. I think part of Kosinzski’s point is to not lose sight of that. It’s an ugly process, no matter how clean and neat on the surface. Is there a risk of losing sight of the enormity of the decision if it is so clean and neat (specifically regarding Texas which actually executes prisoners)?

    On the flip side, there are those I think who would rather there not be a clinical, emotionally sterile process involved. It provides necessary ammunition (no pun intended).

    Dana (4dbf62)

  60. Give ’em a lethal injection of lead… or a pint of liquid Drano, their choice.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

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