The moral issues surrounding death penalty methodology that were portrayed so well in Stephen King's The Green Mile were revisited by Americans last week after Oklahoma authorities miserably failed to immediately execute a killer by injection.
In what was termed a "botched" procedure, Clayton Lockett was pumped full of "experimental" drugs, a concoction of sedatives that failed to immediately kill him. Instead, in front spectators and reporters tweeting the event live, he "writhed" for more than half an hour on a gurney, straining against the restraints, and then died of an "apparent heart attack."
Critics of capital punishment immediately called the execution inhumane. A UN human rights groups even said it was "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."
The bungled procedure comes after another botched execution under similar circumstances involving "experimental" drugs in January in Ohio.
After Lockett's execution, a spokesman for the UN Geneva office, Rupert Colville, told reporters that
the apparent cruelty involved in these recent executions simply reinforces the argument that authorities across the United States should impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty and work for abolition of this cruel and inhuman practice.
Humans have been imposing the death penalty for centuries. But human mores have evolved. Many countries consider it inhumane, reckless and unnecessary and have banned it.
Indeed, more and more states are eliminating the death penalty or calling moratoriums on executions. Maryland in 2013, Connecticut in 2012, and New Mexico in 2009 are the latest states to abolish it altogether.
But in this quest to reduce the "cruel and inhuman" nature of the death penalty, society also reduces the pain, loss of freedom and even loss of life that some say should be imposed for the kind of violence the unrepentant Lockett committed.
In my experience of both prosecuting and defending criminals, I found that 90 percent of them were not truly anti-social, deviant individuals. Most of them were mentally ill, drug addicts, alcoholics or just plain dumb.
There are too many of these people locked up in the U.S. and not being rehabilitated in any meaningful way. They do not deserve harsh punishment.
But that 10 percent that engaged in truly heinous behavior such as Lockett, who kidnapped, raped, shot and buried alive his victims, deserve not only to be segregated from society, but to endure a certain degree of suffering. That pain works both as a deterrent to deviants and as societal retribution.
Much of the violent criminal behavior on our streets today stems from the lack of fear of hardship and punishment that once was associated with committing heinous crimes. Dangerous criminals lack respect for police and judges and have little fear that the justice system will impose harsh consequences for criminal behavior.
The Oklahoma execution should not automatically be labelled cruel and inhuman treatment. Lockett deserved what he got, and probably should have endured more discomfort during his incarceration and his execution.
Eliminating pain from the death penalty has gone too. People on death row don't deserve the same treatment and leniency given to their less vicious criminal brethren.
If the death penalty is eliminated in this effort to make our already extremely tolerant society more humane, then there needs to be a redefining of punishment for the 10 percenters that provides true retribution and some deterrence.
Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.