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Ash Murthy Headshot

There Is No Humane Death Penalty

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DEATH PENALTY
ASSOCIATED PRESS
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On a Tuesday night in 1999, Clayton Lockett and his accomplices shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman and raped her friend. Fifteen years later, again on a Tuesday night, the state of Oklahoma answered his crime eye for eye. By conducting a botched execution attempt, that according to several witnesses including media persons and Locket's attorney, made Mr. Lockett writhe in pain for almost an hour before he ultimately died of a heart attack, Oklahoma violated the eighth amendment of the Constitution that protects Americans from cruel and unusual punishment.

It's not yet clear whether the arcane composition of the drugs procured from an undisclosed source -- the subject of a failed legal challenge -- is responsible for the botched execution. Nevertheless, the increasing trouble faced by prison officials in procuring drugs for executions clearly questions the civility of the death penalty. The United States ranks fifth by the number of executions carried out in 2013, and is outranked only by China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Shouldn't we question ourselves when we are in the company of some of the most intolerant and authoritarian regimes?

Supporters of the death penalty comfort themselves that the "guilty beyond reasonable doubt" cannot go wrong, but our system is far from perfect, and wrongful convictions are much more common than what the death penalty advocates would like to believe. Edward Elmore, who was accused of rape and murder before being exonerated by DNA evidence, thanks to a Cornell University law clinic, narrowly escaped the injection. Cameron Willingham, convicted of arson based on pseudo-scientific forensics and testimony of jailhouse snitches, was killed by Texas. A recent study appearing in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that about 4 percent of capital convictions are wrongful convictions. This means about 120 of the 3,000 inmates currently on death row may be innocent. These men and women face gruesome and painful means like firing squads or electric chairs as lawmakers consider alternative forms of execution, as the drugs for lethal injection are becoming harder to obtain and mired in litigation.

Soon after Lockett's death, social media was rife with debates and celebrations of the death penalty. Many netizens commended the prison officials, and some even regretted that Lockett's death wasn't as painful as they had hoped. While the macabre comments over Clayton's death, due to the heinous nature of the crimes he committed can be understandable, celebrations over a recent explosion in a county jail, is quite appalling. What the bloodthirsty crowd does not realize is that inhumane executions are a violation of our constitutional rights by the state, and thereby undermine the fundamental principles of democracy that make America the free and tolerant nation we all cherish.

This is not the first time that condemned prisoners put to death by lethal injection have shown visible signs of pain. In fact, medical evidence suggests that even prisoners who did not show visible signs of pain could have actually felt pain, but been unable to indicate them because of a muscle relaxant used in the drug cocktail. Lethal injections may be the most aesthetically pleasing, but that doesn't make it any more humane than other methods of execution. So why pretend we are more civilized than countries that behead or stone their condemned prisoners to death? It is time we put an end to death sentence or stop our pretensions of civility.