How far should a state go to put a condemned prisoner to death? I raise that question today after learning that Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper joined 12 other state attorneys general late last month to ask U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help their states be able to perform executions.
Instead of asking Holder for such help, why don’t these states just do away with the death penalty and sentence people who commit heinous crimes such as murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole?
In other words, treat them humanely, but throw away the key if we are absolutely sure we have the person who committed the crime.
But in a letter dated Jan. 25, Cooper and the attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming sought Holder’s assistance in resolving an issue concerning the procurement of one of the prescribed medications used in lethal-injection protocols.
“The protocol used by most of the jurisdictions employing lethal injection includes the drug sodium thiopental, an ultra-acting barbiturate,” the attorneys general said. “Sodium thiopental is in very short supply worldwide and, for various reasons, essentially unavailable on the open market.
“For those jurisdictions that have the drug available, their supplies are very small — measured in a handful of doses. The result is that many jurisdictions shortly will be unable to perform executions in cases where appeals have been exhausted and governors have signed death warrants.
“Therefore, we solicit your assistance in either identifying an appropriate source for sodium thiopental or making supplies held by the federal government available to the states. We also request an opportunity to discuss this important matter with you.”
A spokeswoman Wednesday said Holder is still reviewing the letter. But again, why not just do away with the death penalty? What purpose does it really serve?
On Feb. 16, Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman is expected to rule on the state’s request to resume executions, which was made on Jan. 21. State officials claim they now have a new procedure in place, in which a prison warden would be required to check to see if the condemned prisoner is unconscious before receiving a lethal dose of drugs.
Since when did a prison warden become a doctor?
But just as Tennessee officials seek to resume executions, a federal judge in California is said to have convened a most unusual hearing Tuesday at San Quentin Prison. The hearing took place as U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel toured the state’s new $900,000 death chamber as part of proceedings aimed at helping him decide whether to restart lethal injections — a procedure he put on hold five years ago.
At the time, Fogel ruled that California’s method constituted cruel and unusual punishment because of questions about how long it took a prisoner to die and the possibility of pain and discomfort before death.
Bonnyman has previously ruled that Tennessee’s use of a three-drug cocktail to execute prisoners “allows for death by suffocation while conscious.”
Again, why not sentence people who commit first-degree murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole? It would save the state a lot of money, and it would be more humane.
Even the judge in California wants more time to determine if his state’s new death chamber and lethal injection process protects inmates from cruel and unusual punishment.
How can we be so sure that is not about to happen in Tennessee if executions are allowed to resume?