Justices to Hear Case Over Drugs Used in Executions

Jan 24, 2015 · 187 comments
Steve Steadman (Huntsville Al)
First I will say I am an advocate of the death penalty, but primarily because I do NOT trust our politicians to keep offenders locked up. (remember Michael Dukakis). It is certain that those who receive the death penalty will never commit those crimes again.
pdjmoo (USA)
If we must carry out this bizarre, ancient abhorrence, then why are they not using the same human euthanasia drug used in Europe and Oregon? What's the real issue here?
seagazer101 (CA)
As to the execution of Charles Warner, I say, "Let the punishment suit the crime." Imagine what is fitting punishment for a monster who ripped apart an 11-month-old girl by sexual force, if you are able. How terrible that he should suffer!
Steve Fankuchen (Oakland, CA)
Of all the bizarre issues in our country, this strikes me as the most absurd: how to find drugs that will execute people painlessly.

Every year thousands of Americans kill themselves painlessly ( to them, not to their loved ones ! ) with an overdose -- usually accidental -- of drugs. Every state and the federal government has a sufficient stash of seized heroin to satisfy even a Rick Perry fantasy. No drug companies, no supply problem, no cost issue, and proven to do the job effectively and without pain. So, JUST WHAT IS THE PROBLEM??? (Apologies for my first ever use of CAPS in these pages, but as to why it is even a problem entirely escapes me.)

Though I am against capital punishment, I do understand those who support it. The issue here, however, is not about the virtues or vices of capital punishment itself but, rather, how it is administered in states where it is accepted, given that the national consensus and law hold that it should be done painlessly.
Leigh (Boston)
I was the victim of a violent crime and burned with the drive for revenge. For a year, I shook every day with the fury of my hate and drive for revenge. Here's what stopped me from acting it out: I knew acting out my drive for revenge would destroy something beautiful and gentle inside of me - that the second after I engaged in a vengeful act, I would no longer be the same person. After a year, and with the help of a great therapist, my drive for revenge and my hate simply receded. My love - for others, for life itself, was far greater than this hate.

So yes, I understand the fury, the hatred for those who have hurt us so. But I believe that the death penalty is wrong because it kills something inside of us. Prisons should exist to protect us from serial predators. But look inside yourself, look at people you know. Most of us suffer from one injustice or another throughout our lives, but it is the moments where we acted with love and nobility that make us proud of being human.
koyaanisqatsi (Upstate NY)
I admit to being amazed and quite shocked at the determination of states like Oklahoma to continue their executions. They go to great time and expense to continue this barbaric practice. But OK is the only state I've been in that allowed their bars to have clogged urinals so that the overfllow was covering the floor a half-inch deep in the restrooms and was tracked out into the street [Lawton, OK near Fort Sill].
SPN (Montana)
It's shameful that in the twenty-first century American states still kill their citizens. It's a barbaric remnant from medieval society that only creates more suffering. I wish we spent our time focusing on eliminating poverty, fighting racism, reducing income disparity and restored hope instead of needlessly perpetuating the killing spree. Imagine if victims received State funds for grief counseling or to restore lost income or wages. What if we truly tried to heal their hearts and restore a degree of their loss? What if we really studied the social conditions (or mental health issues) that led to the crime. What if we tried to restore the offender to a more compassionate existence in prison? No, we don't try to heal. Instead, we spend our money determining a better and more efficient way to kill. This perpetuates anger and continues to feed our most violent desires.
Mr Phil (Houston, TX)
The terminal [sic] "What if" scenario provides no sense of closure for the VICTIMS, their families or friends and no amount of counseling/wages will heal the scars.

Repentant or not for the crime, the their degree of loss came at a price to others. Psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, social workers and medical professionals have been studying the human psyche and criminal mind for centuries without success. The human brain is uniquely individualistic and no two are alike.

As a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) survivor who spent 3+ weeks comatose in '90. I know this topic very well from participating in survivor-led support groups at TIRR (Gabby Giffords) and years of lecturing on the topic.

Unintended racism and income disparity will ALWAYS persist. In a free market, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs exists in a rudimentary sense. Even a 'pecking order' is maintained in a widget factory.

There is no Utopia, not even in 'Big Sky Country.'
Mr Phil (Houston, TX)
"...'It would be odd if the constitutionality of being burned alive, for example, turned on a challenger’s ability to point to an available guillotine,' Justice Sotomayor wrote..."
While messy, with a modified bench press and four 50lb free weights (and a garden hose), the guillotine IS viable.
claudia.wiehle2 (Melbourne, Australia)
The hypocrisy of the American's is mind boggling. Yesterday it was about abortion after 20 weeks, which many people, most in the southern capital punishment states probably, claiming that the woman is killing her fetus. Today it is about the best way to kill someone on death row! A man in his 70's was exonerated today of a murder conviction after 40 years, and able to walk free. If he had been executed you would never had known about his innocence. He lost the best years of his life - he in fact served life. How many more like this gentleman are there that nobody knows about? The death penalty does not belong in a 21st century society at all. You should also look at your sentencing laws, some of your laws are draconian with punishments far exceeding the crimes. No wonder you have more than 1% of your population in prison.
cowichan (vancouver island)
I don't understand this 'search' for an effective drug regime. Why not just a massive overdose of Heroin? Death so quick that addicts are found with the needle still in their arm. Supply of drug not a problem with tons on hand and more coming everyday. What's not to like?
koonie (Ann Arbor)
Why is this a Supreme Court issue? This should be decided by the Medial profession not by judges who know nothing about medicine!
JRZGRL1 (Charleston, SC)
I have received midazolam frequently for dental work. I can say unequivocally for me that midazolam by itself does not render me unconscious. I have frequently come out of it & required more medication. It is ridiculous to be using this drug. It is not designed for this purpose. Phenobarbital is the drug used by vets to euthanize our companion animals. Phenobarbital is the drug that should be used for executions if we are going to be barbaric enough to continue to execute people while almost all of the developed world has stopped executing people.
Mr Phil (Houston, TX)
“…the new combinations of drugs that some states are using to execute prisoners and that critics say cause intense suffering…

…Oklahoma’s three-chemical procedure violated the Eighth Amendment because it posed a significant risk of terrible suffering…

…If it does not do so, medical experts say, the inmate will suffer excruciating pain, which could go undetected because the prisoner would be paralyzed and unable to communicate…”
POSED a risk of terrible suffering; to quote Nietzsche, “To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” This is the decision before the High Court.

Alternatively, though it would change U.S. District Courts (10th to 5th), take the three about 350 miles south to Huntsville where a one-drug fits all solution is used.
Cynthia Kegel (planet earth)
There is no humane way to kill people. Execution is cruel and unusual punishment.
JRZGRL1 (Charleston, SC)
And along those same lines, there is no way to kill animals "humanely". Killing is killing. Slaughter is slaughter.
citizen for peace (missouri)
I am getting more and more confused. The death penalty in countries other than the US includes adultery, theft, women driving cars. These may be put to death by stoning, beheading, burning alive and others. America is trying to do it "nicely". Should we just let these criminals sit on death row until all witnesses and survivors die then release the inmate because no one can testify to their guilt. Just turn them loose and hope they don't come after you.
JRZGRL1 (Charleston, SC)
The countries you are talking about are NOT the countries that we should be comparing ourselves to. The countries that we should be comparing ourselves to don't execute criminals.
Scott V. (Duluth, MN)
Most other countries than the US don't have the death penalty at all (if we really want to compare ourselves to other countries). And inmates don't get new trials in the future (unless there is affirmative evidence of error/misconduct in their original trial), so the fact that no one remains to testify against them is irrelevant. It's just not the way it works.
Greg (NYC, ny)
Drug companies refuse to supply the proper drugs based on a moral standing of doing no harm. Of course they also refuse to supply medical drug therapies to those who cannot afford them, they charge 3X+ pricing in the US (compared to the rest of the world), AND the Major drug manufacturers have lobbied successfully to prohibit Medicare - the worlds largest drug customer - to buy wholesale. Effectively they have condemned to DEATH far more patients who cannot afford life saving drug therapies than inmates executed by our court system since the birth of our Nation. Duplicity at its most immoral and lethal.
Mr Phil (Houston, TX)
Yet, only America's morality is subjective... others' religious expression.
Chris (La Jolla)
The solution is simple: Bring back hanging or the firing squad.
GG (California)
Not sure I completely understand the problem here. Don't veterinarians do this all the time? I still have not come across any front news stories or complaints from pet owners describing their animal's pain or suffering in the process. Once again, the inanity of the human race never ceases to amaze....
A. Stanton (Dallas, TX)
If Dr. Kevorkian could do it, so can we.
Southern Boy (Spring Hill, TN)
I have had to have two cats and a dog put to sleep. They were given injections. They did not writhe in pain. They passed away peacefully. Why can't the same drugs be used on criminals deserving the death penalty.
paul (brooklyn)
One can hope the Supreme Court will end the death penalty like most of the
advanced, civilized world but that is asking too much.

We know have the shameful distinction of being the only nation in modern history to admit to torture and be proud of it..(admitted war criminals Bush2/Cheney).

Truly shameful....
J. Cornelio (Washington, Conn.)
We are aghast when someone is murdered. Then we decide that the "just" response is to murder them back.

Not only ... well, upside-down but a scary reminder of just what makes us tick -- vengeance, fear and hate. And the failure to recognize that embracing, rather than harnessing, those very human emotions encourages them.

Justice is best dispensed with humility and sadness.
Margaret (California)
Death penalty was a significant political mistake.From the very beginning of its' introducing into our judicial system it discredits democracy, which is supposed to be the basis of state policy. But it depends on the graded offence. In some cases criminals are more than worth it !
Andrew (NY)
Debate here is silly.
Anesthesiologists render >100,000 people unconscious everyday in the US and if there is not concern about the need to ever regain consciousness the drugs/doses etc are simply not an issue.
Real debate is the penalty, not the method.
argus (Pennsylvania)
I suspect there are few anaesthesiologists who would willingly participate in knowingly killing someone. What do you suggest be the penalty for a physician who would do such a thing? The death penalty, perhaps?
Mr Phil (Houston, TX)
Drug companies are not going to sell those drugs to the state to be used for that purpose.
Rob (East Bay, CA)
Why do I have a nagging suspicion that this has something to do with drug companies and prison contractors? When logic doesn't seem to be the focus I would follow the money..
carolbee (CNY)
Why is it that in the discussions of euthanasia there seem to be no issues with the drugs used? Nobody is saying those people are dying in agony.
blackmamba (IL)
But for China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea America could be also #1 in the world in executions as it already is in mass incarceration imprisonment. America has 25% of the prison population with only 5% of the planet's people. Mainly poor Black and brown non-violent illegal drug users and those in possession of illegal drugs. Human rights?
argus (Pennsylvania)
Unless you want to deny the states the right to decide whether to have the death penalty, you'll have to put up with it until (1) the states where there is a death penalty decide to abolish it or (2) the federal government assumes a right not granted it under the constitution -- see Amendments IX and X.

Those of us who want the death penalty abolished, especially we who want the federal government to leave punishments for nonfederal crimes in the hands of the states, have a hard row to hoe.
Mr Phil (Houston, TX)
"Mainly poor Black and brown non-violent illegal drug users and those in possession of illegal drugs. Human rights?"
Not a valid argument without stats showing percentages of 1st offenders v Repeat; possession: quantity/type of drug.
Dan (MA)
As a veterinarian, I am frequently called upon to perform euthanasia. I can consistently put a dog or cat to sleep quietly and painlessly in 15 minutes or less with an anesthetic/tranquilizer/barbiturate drug combination. Would the same combo work in humans? I don't know. I'm not an MD. So here's a thought. If we MUST persist in executing people, how about we convene a panel of MD's, get some good options, and then pass a law making it illegal for drug companies to refuse to provide the drugs?
Harry (Victoria, Canada)
Ethically weird to require a company to sell a drug for a purpose it loathes; in any case would have to be accompanied by a compete indemnity for anything that might go wrong, any lawsuit that might arise, etc.
argus (Pennsylvania)
If I understand correctly, one or more of the drugs used is manufactured abroad. How does one compel a foreign-housed company to furnish the desired drugs?

I suggest that if a law is to be passed, the one with the greatest chance of getting the death penalty abolished is to require executions be public. If many want the dealth penalty, why not afford them the opportunity to watch it being carried out -- in person or on television (with color commentary and instant replay, perhaps). The less cruel but more grueome, the better. With the right sort of marketing, one might attract nearly as many as those who vote in off-year elections. Arter all, the issue here is not making laws, but taking revenge on someone who has commited a heinous crime or crimes.
ptkap (sag harbor)
Can American Democracy Survive the Roberts Court? It is not a sure thing Four recent decisions of the five conservative justices have the potential to make our cities unsafe (Heller), to make our elections undemocratic (Citizens United), to deprive many citizens of their right to vote (Shelby County), and to accord a competitive advantage to businesses owned by religiously-devout persons over businesses not so owned (Hobby Lobby).

For details see: TheRobertsCourtvUSdemocracy.blogspot.com
Jeffrey Brown (White Plains NY)
I don't understand why this has become so complicated. Anesthesiologists have a whole compendium of drugs that have been proven to induce coma during heart surgery, amputations, and other potentially painful procedures. Why aren't they being used as evidenced based alternates?
Geezer (Middleton, WI)
The U.S. Constitution forbids punishments that are cruel AND unusual. Death may be cruel, but it is not unusual. It is universal. We are all born with a sentence of death. The important questions are when and how.

For some, I suspect that a lifetime spent in prison would be a punishment more cruel than death. Perhaps those facing a life sentence should have the the option, after a suitable waiting period, of electing painless execution by injection of an overdose of anesthetic.
Scott V. (Duluth, MN)
The question is not whether the result of the punishment (death) is unusual but whether the punishment itself is unusual (and cruel). So, then, the question becomes one of how common (or usual) the punishment is. If we're looking internationally, we'd have to conclude that it's unusual. If we're looking at the geographic/spatial distribution of its use in the U.S., we'd have to conclude that it's unusual. But the Supreme Court uses current legislation to determine whether a punishment is unusual and from this calculus, we'd have to conclude that the death penalty is not (32 out of the 50 states have laws allowing for its use).
DD (Los Angeles)
Being executed is far too quick and final for someone so bereft of morals that they could sexually assaulting and murder an 11-month-old girl.

I agree that the death penalty should be abolished. It should be replaced by the punishment of life without possibility of parole in solitary confinement.

No outside contact, no other prisoner contact, no Internet, books, music, radio, TV, mail, visitors. Nothing. Totally isolated. Nothing but a 12x12 cell, not even seeing the guards who don't talk while delivering meals through a slot. Being let out into a courtyard for an hour of solo exercise a day.

Complete societal shunning until they die.
NeverLift (Austin, TX)
If the issue is achieving a painless execution: The KGB used it by the thousands: One executioner with a handgun, shoot into the back of the head. Death is truly instantaneous and, with the brain destroyed, painless.

I'm not volunteering. But I bet there are thousands of individuals in this country that salivate at the prospect of being able to kill without danger of repercussion. We know who many of them are; they are in state penal mental facilities serving life sentences. Appropriate straps and restraints would prevent their using the weapon in any other way.
Michael M. T. Henderson (Lawrence KS)
It's time to join the civilized world and get rid of the death penalty (and to have universal single-payer healthcare). We American kill people in several ways: (1) by shooting each other with military assault weapons; (2) by forcing uninsured people to seek help in the Emergency Room--often too late--at great expense to the rest of us. Countries with universal single-payer healthcare have significantly longer average lifespans and MUCH lower costs; (3) by executing people, innocent or not, often with great suffering.
Since execution was ruled constitutional in 1976 (Woodson v. N. Carolina), we need to amend the Constitution to get rid of it. Once we've killed someone, no amount of DNA exonerating evidence will bring them back.
I'd love to rewrite the 2nd amendment too, as follows: "The right of the people to bear arms in a well-organized militia shall not be abridged." but good luck with that!
Joe Vercante (Lexington, Kentucky)
Charles F. Warner was executed for the sexual assault and murder of an 11 month old girl and there is concern about how he "suffered" while being put to death? Come on folks, there is no torture on earth (besides what's going on in Gauntanamo) painful enough for this man. I think the families of these victims should be given a choice of 3 chemicals out of ten, and be allowed to mix and match to see how much pain they can actually inflict on the individual who took their family member and loved one. Make it a contest. The longest, most excrutiatingly painful death wins the administor a brief second of victory and elation, before they drop back into the life long loss and unimaginable pain they are left to endure everyday as a result of the unconscionable brutality that came into their lives and changed it forever. The burden of proof is a different conversation, but when there is total clairty on the guilt around a truly horrific crime, their death can't be painful enough.
Steve4887 (Southern California)
As a taxpayer, I don't want to support a convicted murderer for rest of his/her life. Some people serve society better by being dead--serial murderers, sadistic murderers, et al.

As for the suffering murderers may experience from a drug cocktail, electric chair, or gas chamber, who cares. When a person makes the decision to murder someone, and follows through, he or she, is no longer worthy of compassion or sympathy. The consequences of a bad decision (killing someone) include a painful death.

The millions of dollars spent on keeping imprisoned murderers alive is better spent on education and programs that identify anti-social tendencies and treating them before they come to fruition.
michjas (Phoenix)
The histories of execution in the US and Britain are instructive. From the 17th century, death by hanging was the practice in both countrries. The U.S. phased in the electric chair and gas chambers to eliminate the unseemliness of public hangings. The British never retreated from hangings. Abolition movements in both countries long had limited success. But, in Britain, a number of controversial cases spurred 1965 legislation that suspended the death penalty for murder while keeping it for other crimes. Public gallows remained, but no further executions have occurred. In the US, the Supreme Court suspended the death penalty in 1972 because of arbitrary enforcement. It was reinstated in 1976 after states passed laws to regulate enforcement. With the widespread shift to lethal injection and the narrowing of the death penalty to fewer crimes and fewer classes of defendants, the U.S. has refined the penalty. Most states authorize capital punishment but most states seldom, if ever, execute anyone.

Based on this history, a few things seem clear. The more offensive and the more controversial executions are, the more likely the public will support abolition. By contrast, the more just death penalties appear and the more humane the method of execution appears, the more likely that executions will continue. Ironically, the perceived fairness of American criminal justice seems to have contributed to continued executions.
partlycloudy (methingham county)
There are people who deserve to be executed. Like the just executed cop killer here in GA who was caught on dash cam first shooting and then killing a downed cop. The catch 22 is that the liberals, who only see criminals after they are in jail and safe from attacking the liberals, out the makers of the drugs, and then the drug companies don't want their other products shunned. So then the states have to hunt for other drugs to use. Go back to the firing squads I guess, like Gary Gilmore opted for. The drugs used to put down large animals, including the tranq given, are quick and painless. But I guess they'd be withdrawn if used for humans. I sure wish that the anti-death penalty people could see first hand what victims, black and white, see from some killers, black and white, IRL. It always amazes me that all of the guys on death row get those glasses, which make them look less like killers. But on the streets with guns and knives, those killers would kill the white liberals just as quickly as they would kill anyone else. Please note that while all the fuss over the death penalty here in GA occurs when a black guy is up for execution, white guys like the one who just got executed for killing a white cop don't get all that attention from the press and liberals. Get out and help disadvantaged kids before they become savage killers, not afterwards.
jake wehrell (satellite beach, FL)
As a military pilot it was necessary to go thru the "Altitude Chamber" periodically. This was a metal cubicle from which they slowly reduced the pressure - simulating higher altitudes where pilots would have insufficient oxygen and experience the effects. If an oxygen mask wasn't quickly strapped onto your face as you nodded, you just painlessly and unknowingly, demised. Why not use these chambers with no oxygen mask strap on.
michjas (Phoenix)
In fact, your suggestion is being studied as a means of assisted suicide in Switzerland. All indications are that oxygen deprivation may well be the way to go..

James Murphy (Providence Forge, Virginia)
The solution is simple: end the death penalty.
Mike (Rockland County, NY)
This is absolutely crazy. When are we going to decide that the death penalty per se is unconstitutional?? I really believe beheading is better than hanging, which is certainly better than being shot. Actually forced drowning in the Mediterranean is best...you get a better view than stone walls in a prison.
Wake up! If we want the world to perceive us as a civilized democracy and a bastion of human rights we need to get rid of the death penalty. After that we can deal with solitary confinement for teenagers.
r.j. paquin (Norton Shores Michigan)
"Only four to hear a case"? My goodness the supremes make up rules just like the senate, as they roll along trying to act like adults.
Hot damn, these creeps deserve what they were sentenced to and all should be done to insure they get what they were promised. Get it on, children!
Scott V. (Duluth, MN)
The "rule of four" has been the way the S.C. decides which cases to hear for centuries. They can't hear every single case that is appealed to the highest level (that's what circuit courts are for) so they have to have a way to determine which cases to hear and the fact that four of the nine justices deem a case important enough to hear is how this is done. They don't just "make up rules," they interpret the Constitution in relation to laws and governmental actions.
Alexandra (Chicago)
The only truly reliably painless death is by guillotine. But it is so gross! The government killers want to kill and they want it to look nice for the folks watching. This talk of pain is not about the condemned. It is about the visual pain of the spectators.
david (ny)
The guillotine does NOT kill instantaneously.
The guillotine just cuts the windpipe but the brain still has some oxygen so the brain lives for a short while after the blade falls.
david (ny)
Whether the death is painful or painless is irrelevant to the main problem with the death penalty which is the possibility of executing an innocent person.
Air Marshal of Bloviana (Over the Fruited Plain)
@david Perhaps there woild be some emotional benefit if you were to actually enroll in a human anatomy and physiology course before writing such an ignorant comment. The head is instantly removed from the rest of the body i.e. the spinal chord (a component of the brain itself) is severed as are the coratid arteries causing instant loss of perfusion of blood and blood pressure. In addition when the thugs head hits the black top it will most likely knock him out anyway.
michjas (Phoenix)
Lately, Americans have done a lot of reflecting on the means of killing. We find beheadings particularly offensive. Prolonged deaths by lethal injection are likewise offensive, as are deaths following torture. As for right to death pills, voluntarily taken, they are preferable to prolonged deaths by insidious disease. Deaths of blacks at the hands of white police tend to be wrongful, particularly if the victim's hands are up or he states that he can't breathe. We wear T-shirts to protest offensive deaths. And some of us think we could reduce unjust deaths with fewer guns while others call for more. The death rate has been unchanged since Day 1 -- it's one to a customer. It's a good thing that we distinguish between deaths that are acceptable and those that are not. After all, customer satisfaction is a big part of the American way.
G. Armour Van Horn (Whidbey Island)
Oklahoma's brief says, "Oklahoma chose midazolam because the state has a sacred duty to enforce its criminal judgments". Excuse me, but under our Constitution the laws based on the Constitution and the rights of citizens are controlling, "sacred" simply does not come into it. Ever. At all.

I don't take that to mean that no soldier will every say a prayer before combat or no legislature will hear a prayer asking for wisdom as they start their work, but any duty or obligation that Oklahoma has is legal.

Our system is based solidly on the consent of the governed, not the divine right of kings. I'm dismayed that Oklahoma's lawyers didn't learn that in grade school.

Carlo 47 (Italy)
It is not a question of drugs combination.
The real question is the death penalty itself, which has been canceled by all civil Nations.
USA have to decide if to stay with those modern Nations or with Saudi Arabia in the Middle Age.
J.O'Kelly (North Carolina)
Leaving aside the morality of the death penalty, it is incomprehensible that states cannot figure out how to put someone to death painlessly. There are many sites on the web instructing people who do not want to continue living because of intractable pain or other reasons, how to end their lives painlessly. Sedation followed by an overdose of many drugs that are legal in this country by prescription will lead to a painless death.
michjas (Phoenix)
Suicide pills require self-administration. That doesn't work in the death penalty context. So the chemicals would have to be injected by an executioner. I'm not sure if that matters. But, it certainly matters that these pills can take days to work. That may be acceptable for those ending life voluntarily. But it's pretty cruel and incredibly unusual for those who are being executed. In fact, there are no obvious, humane alternatives to lethal injection. If there were, I like to believe that at least one of the capital punishment states would have switched over by now.
DavidPun (MD)
Apart from the fact that I view executions as legalized murder, I am totally mystified by this debate over the availability of drugs. Hundreds of people go in for surgery every day in the US, and they are rendered unconscious quickly and effectively and suffer no pain. Perhaps the issue is that the drug companies are unwilling to allow these drugs to be used for murder, but I would be very doubtful about that.
Greg (NYC, ny)
It is exactly that - drug companies refuse to supply the drugs. Of course they also refuse to supply drug therapies at reasonable prices to those who cannot afford the massively inflated pricing, and do not have insurance. Major drug manufacturers have lobbied successfully to prohibit medicare - the worlds largest drug customer - to buy wholesale. Effectively they have provided their own death sentence, condemning countless patients who cannot afford life saving drug therapies. Duplicity at its most immoral and lethal.
Swatter (Washington DC)
Given the number of innocent people KNOWN to have been convicted and received a death sentence, this discussion shouldn't even matter - as long as there is even a possibility that the innocent are convicted of capital crimes, all death sentences should be commuted to life and the death penalty should be abolished. What could be more cruel than executing someone who is innocent or having an innocent person on death row? Many cases that seemed cut and dry have turned out not to be, and those who had their convictions overturned could only do so because they were still alive.
jacrane (Davison, Mi.)
Could you please give me a number as to how many received the death sentence and weren't guilty. I constantly hear it happens all the time but would like to know how many. It's the same as saying white police officers kill people of color because they are racist. Proof please and numbers.
Citizen (RI)

I have been using Swatter's argument for quite some time. It is important to understand that it's not an argument over numbers, other than the number one. One innocent person put to death is an injustice, and a justice system cannot be considered just if it allows and accepts, knowingly, that an innocent person will be executed.

Imagine yourself as that one innocent person, who did not commit the crime for which you have been sentenced to death. Imagine the injustice of it. You would understand how a justice system that cannot guarantee it will never execute an innocent person, cannot be allowed to execute anyone.

Your comment seems to advocate for the position that there is an acceptable number of executions of the innocent, as collateral damage in the state's execution of the guilty. Is that the kind of justice system you want in our country? Or do you deny that an innocent person has ever been executed?
Scott V. (Duluth, MN)
There have been 150 exonerations (number doesn't include those who have been released but not officially recognized as innocent--150 is a conservative number compared to other figures) since 1973 (when the U.S. started using the death penalty again). In that same time, there have been 1398 executions. So for every 10 executions (actually less but we can round up), one person sentenced to death has been officially recognized as wrongfully convicted and exonerated/released. You can easily find all this information here: www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.

Moreover, a recent study showed that over 4% (or roughly 1 in 25) of all people sentenced to death (different than comparing to # of executions) have been innocent. You can find the citation/reference for this here (published article in a peer-reviewed journal): http://www.pnas.org/content/111/20/7230.abstract
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
I don't understand how it can be so difficult to execute someone by a lethal dose of injected drugs. It seems to me people are thinking too hard on this. I say this because everyday junkies die of overdoses and I'll bet that the street heroin they die from are far from pure. So why not just give them a blast of pure heroin to send them away forever?
david (ny)
The issue is still the death penalty itself and not whether a certain method of execution causes pain.
All methods cause some pain.
Supporters and opponents of the death penalty agree that there is always the chance of executing an innocent person.
Supporters are willing to accept that risk in order to make sure that all vicious criminals are executed.
Opponents [I am one.] are unwilling to risk executing an innocent person and recognizing there is no absolute certainty, oppose the death penalty.
NJacana (Philadelphia)
Totally agree. Hatred does not conquer hatred, just perpetuates a hateful culture.
DavidPun (MD)
Frankly, I oppose the death penalty because there is something morally perverse about the concept of upholding the value of human life by killing people. While I certainly don't like the idea of executing the wrong person, that really isn't the issue. The State can take away a criminal's freedom because to some extent it is the benefits provided by our modern societies that give people their freedoms and benefits, and if you are not willing to adhere to the rules of the State, then you have no right to the benfits. The State does NOT give a person their life hence, with the exception of self defense, it has no right to take it away. That's the very basic principle that says why even though execution is LEGALLY acceptable, it is MORALLY reprehensible and is moral murder.
david (ny)
For me the possibility of executing an innocent person IS the issue.
It is bad enough when an innocent person is imprisoned.
But with imprisonment there is a possibility of freeing a falsely convicted person.
The death penalty is irreversible.
If there were a magic wand that determined guilt /innocence with 100% certainty AND if the death penalty were shown to be a deterrent, I could support the death penalty.
No such wand exists.
Comparison of homicide rates in states with and without the death penalty do not support the hypothesis that the death penalty is a deterrent.
I do not know any philosophy.
For the reasons I have stated above I oppose the death penalty.
Patrick (Long Island NY)
The Death penalty is long term psychological torture.
Here (There)
For the victims' families?
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
It is long term due to the numerous appeals put forth by the convict's lawyers. This silliness must stop. The system of justice is being perverted on clear cut cases where the defendant can drag out the inevitable for 20 years or more subjecting the family of the victim to stress akin to the actual crime itself.
Wolfran (Columbia)
I agree; the ridiculous stalling tactics of violent criminals on death row and their attorneys go on way too long. It is a waste of tax payers dollars and unfair to the victims' families to give these people so many chances to prove that they did not commit an act that they did in fact commit. We should carry death sentences immediately they are handed down.
T. Anand Raj (Madras, India)
The U.S. serves as a role model to all the developing countries. People from around the world, migrate to the U.S., drawn by its human right records, freedom of speech and expression and its secularism.

One big bolt in famed American human rights system is its continuance of capital punishment. Countries around the world have recognized that executing a person has not made any change in the society or reduced crime rate. It is high time the U.S. does away with capital punishment.

In India, we still have capital punishment. Here, convicts are executed by hanging. The U.S. practices administration of cocktail of legal injections, with a view to give a less painful death to the inmate. However, this practice has only proved to be more painful to the inmate and an inhumane way of executing. I think, when compared to this practice, hanging is much easier and less painful.

However, my view is, capital punishment should be totally done away with. We are living in a civilized world. It is inhuman to take away life of another in the name of law. Killing an enemy combatant in war zone is different. But that is not the case here.
Here (There)
That may well be. But I read Albert Pierrepont's memoirs, and from his experience, hanging without risking death by slow strangulation or having the head come off, takes skill. Are there living Americans with that skill?
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
It is combat, a battle between those who wish to lead orderly lives in safety. These people are an affront to the Constitution with it guarantees of citizen's right to have life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness within its constraints. What need to do is return to the tried and true means of punishment for those who have been absolutely to have committed the crime. This execution by narcotics has done nothing but provide another means to appeal which drags the process out so long as to make Caryl Chessman's case look like swift justice.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
Is it inhuman to keep a mentally alert human locked into a small one room cell for the rest of their natural life?
MauiYankee (Maui)
Dr. Mengele would smile.

Does anyone believe for a moment that Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts will find any issue with human experimentation and execution?

Glad the ghouls are discussing better methods of killing.

You have to wonder at the logic: It is wrong to kill, so we are going to kill you.......

How very Christian or Saudi or North Korean or Commie Chinese.
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
And what to do with these murderers? Having killed once or more times they are a danger to the guards and other inmates. They cannot be put into solitary confinement for long periods because SCOTUS has ruled that cruel and inhumane punishment. There is no segment of society safe from these predators, even other prisoners.
conradtseitz (Fresno, CA)
You are wrong about the SCOTUS ruling. There is no such ruling. Even minors are allowed to be put in to solitary confinement. Long periods of solitary confinement are perfectly legal and amount to prolonged torture. I suppose that's what some advocates really want--to torture the guilty to death-- and a few years of solitary confinement will do just that, and cheaply too.
michjas (Phoenix)
The subject at hand is whether lethal injections are cruel and unusual. Supreme Court cases are generally narrowly focused. Their issues may be arcane -- such as the standing of plaintiffs. Or they may be monumental, such as the legality of segregation. Still, they are what they are. And whether you oppose or support the death penalty is nice to know and fun to argue. But this case is about botched executions, nothing more or less. Botched executions deserve thoughtful reflection. Unfortunately, most people prefer to tell us which side they root for when the subject at hand is just letting the air out of footballs.
Ashland (Missouri)
Be careful what you wish. If the Supreme Court outlaws lethal injection, firing squads, hangings, or gas chambers may return. The support for executions remains strong in many states, and the constitution specifically permits them.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
The guillotine will never botch an execution. And it gives the condemn about three seconds of a free foating sensation before lights out. It is a gory sight I'm sure. But at least it won't get botched and it is humane. What more can people want other than to stop all executions?
Citizen (RI)
One of the things about our concern that executions be "painless" is that it makes executing people too easy. When that concern is no longer necessary, and when the method is in fact painless, the ease with which we conduct executions becomes a problem. We stop asking whether we *should* be executing people. The guillotine did nothing if it did not become an enabler by virtue of its ease of use and painless method of killing. It took some time before people began questioning the legitimacy and ethic of the killing itself, brought about by the horror of the guillotine's efficacy.
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
Firing squads are the most humane. Death is instantaneous and certain.
nemo227 (California)
If the courts were concerned with justice they would require the same methods that the killers used on their victims.
However, considering the number of false convictions, the whole question of the death penalty is not reassuring to a lot of citizens.
Air Marshal of Bloviana (Over the Fruited Plain)
Citizens who sit on capital cases should be more careful. That said, if you hire a doctor to kill a human being then you deserve whatever you get. We would be better off coopting a Saudi executioner, like the FBI does when they employ computer hackers. Find someone who actually can do the job right and takes pride in his work.
Kim (Harlem)
For all those 'murderers' who rape and kill babies and strangle grandmothers, there are others who are innocent and put to death. The next prisoner up for execution in Oklahoma on Thursday, Richard Glossip, is an innocent man. A man who had never had any trouble with the law, led a decent life, but was 'accused' of ordering a brutal killing. His accuser was the killer, who got a deal to avoid the death penalty. The world is taking notice, thankfully, nd Sister Helen Prejean has taken up his cause. We have 20,000 signatures on a petition to spare his life. So please don't assume that all death row inmates are 'obviously' guilty. Too many have not been. And Richard is one of these. richardeglossip.com
nemo227 (California)
Too often the people in the "justice system" don't know what justice is but they love their "procedures". As in, "We did everything according to the letter of the law." but they have never brought an innocent man back from the dead.
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
The person who orders the killing is just as guilty as the one who performs it. Glossip could have confessed and probably received a sentence of life with no parole. Instead the hiree got the plea bargain.
Here (There)
How many of the people on death row are guilty in your eyes? How many deserve execution?
Sandman (Texas)
Midazolam is perfectly acceptable as a hypnotic in appropriate intravenous doses. It does not cause burning or adverse effects when administered this way. The problem is seldom the drug, but rather the intelligence of the person using it, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, even delivering what amounts to a deliberately botched anesthetic does require a small amount of skill, and in government workers, I'm afraid you get what you pay for. If the state is incapable of exercising such minimal skill I seriously suggest they return to measured-drop hanging as execution method. While death is by unconscious asphyxiation in this method, unconsciousness occurs almost instantaneously with a high cervical cord transection, it is virtually painless, and requires very little skill to carry out.

I say this, though I am for purely practical reasons opposed to the death penalty. A life sentence without parole, I feel is a harsher sentence that's cheaper to carry out considering legal fees for the interminable appeals of a death sentence. And in case of judicial error, it is more reversible.
esp (Illinois)
Sandman, midazolam is not the medication that causes burning. It clearly states in the article that it is the heart stopping medication that is caustic and it is caustic in the vein (which is the correct way to give these medications). So it is painful whether or not it is administered properly.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
You are against legal execution yet prefer lifetime imprisonment over legal execution because it is harsher than legal execution? This makes me arch my eyebrows. H'mmmm. So you are against legal execution for fear of executing an innocent person? But you have no problem with condemning a convicted person to a lifetime of harsh imprisonment even if he may never be found innocent? Not only does it confuse me but i need to ask you how you know this? Have you talked to killers about their preference over a lifetime of incarceration or a quick death as an out?
Sandman (Texas)
Yes, I am aware of that. It's potassium that burns when it's given quickly. But after consciousness is lost, it doesn't matter and that can be accomplished with a large dose of pentothal or midazolam or secobarbital or whatever. None of these drugs have analgesic properties. If you are asleep it doesn't matter. For the same reason, a beta-blocker to control heart rate an amnestic agent (like midazolam) and a muscle relaxant (e.g., pancuronium) is a complete anesthetic. You could give a perfectly fine anesthetic that way though nobody does that for some rather practical reasons. Such a combination will also kill you quite efficiently without airway management and mechanical ventilation. The potassium is unnecessary but it does speed the process. But if the drugs are not properly administered, even a deliberately botched anesthetic can become torture.
No Hate (Earth)
So why does no state simply use carbon monoxide? It is sooo painless that THOUSANDS of people die from exposure in their sleep each year. Never even feeling enough discomfort to even wake up! That would completely undermine any legal attempts to call it "painful". The victimized person / family could even be the ones to back their car's tailpipe right up to the holding tank inlet. And if you wanted even LESS drama, force feed a couple Ambien and a Jack Daniels chaser as an appetizer and wait for the sandman to do his thing.
JAF45 (Vineyard Haven, MA)
Good, even if a bit late. This should have happened two years ago, at the first signs of trouble with these protocols.
Irlo (Boston, MA)
I find it very disturbing that our government uses drugs that our medical system utilizes to sedate and render unconscious patients seen by doctors and in hospitals, also to intentionally kill convicted criminals for the purpose of utilizing the act of death as a punishment for human beings. Sorry--I can't wrap my mind around the State the use of death against a criminal as justification to match the criminal's original wrong act of murder--by doing so, we who are supposed to have the upper ethical hand simply perpetuate the original wrong act.
Executions are cruel and unusual punishment, however they are administered. It's time for the US to catch up with other countries and abolish the death penalty.
Hubert Kraus (Delran, NJ)
The death of an innocent victim is cruel and unusual punishment. What consideration or choice did the murderer give the victim?
Steve B. (St. Louis, Missouri)
Good question. Turn it around and apply it to an innocent victim falsely convicted by the state. We cannot prevent criminals from killing but we can prevent the state from killing. Let's hope the Supreme Court does just that.
M. (Seattle, WA)
I have no problem with vicious killers feeling a little pain on the way out.
Alexandra (Chicago)
How naive you are. Several innocent people too have been executed. Is that okay? It has been proven not to reduce crime. Finally, if the government thinks killing is terrible, why are they doing it?
dinophile (U.S.)
Except you assume you've got a guilty person and that he or she has received due process. Ever hear of lying witnesses and corrupt prosecutors and judges?
Madeline Conant (Midwest)
Two questions:

Couldn't a government lab be set up to manufacture these drugs? That would bypass the problem of having to find a private lab willing to sell them for this purpose.

Why administer a paralytic agent? Wouldn't it be more ethical to observe the physical reactions of the person being executed?
Louis (Amherst, New York)
Let's be honest here. The proposed drug, Midazolam, used alone for "lethal" injection is ludicrous. Any person familiar with these drugs knows that.

There are other combinations out there which can be quite effective and quite lethal, and all acting very quickly.

But the real reason no one wants to come forward with these combinations is that no one wants to be associated with putting someone to death.

Even the drug manufacturers themselves don't want to be known as the "Drug of choice" for executions. .

The recipe is a simple one, which I will describe without naming the specific drugs. These drugs are well known to practitioners everywhere.

Step number one: Administer a sedative to calm the individual and render him or her unconscious. ( Any number of drugs fits this category and they are all currently on the market.)

Step number two: Administer a power acting narcotic. (Again, there is a wide choice available.)

Step number three: Administer a certain well known drug which instantly stops the heart. (Again, this is a no brainer for anyone familiar with basic human physiology.)

All of these drugs can be administered IV at once and death can occur within seconds. These specific drugs which I will not name are readily and easily available to any medical professional.

Now, again, this presupposes a properly started IV and a knowledge of medications. But, once agin, the question remains, does that average person want to be associated with executions?
Larry Eisenberg (New York City)
The Roberts Five know no compassion
Drug injection's clearly in fashion,
These are murderers, so,
Who cares how they go?
End death penalties? That's a rash 'un.
DavidPun (MD)
What most people seem to misunderstand about the debate over the death penalty is that in essence it is not what it says about the scum bag sitting behind bars. It is what it says about YOU. There are TWO sides to the issue. In this debate there are three classes of people. The first are those who are willing to kill, and have no respect for the law or other people. The second are those who are willing to kill but are willing to live by the rule of law (the first class of people obviously emerged from this second). The third are those who recognize that, other than for self defense, killing people to demonstrate our respect for the value of human life is a moral abomination.
Charles (United States of America)
If phenobarbital is not available, why not use other drugs known to cause death with high doses, such as morphine which is not associated with pain.
Michael (Los Angeles)
These drugs work relatively slowly and may induce vomiting in near fatal doses.
Air Marshal of Bloviana (Over the Fruited Plain)
Then perhaps then we should strive for a fatal dose, isn' t that the idea in the first place? I am all for cyanide. Time to empty these lofts out an turn off the lights.
Sandman (Texas)
They tried that one. An execution was done with midazolam and dilaudid (hydromorphone). It took a long time and the family is suing the state, claiming it was cruel. I'd say that fellow died with a smile.

We're americans. We want everything fast.
The descriptions of individuals who described pain like burning sensations from the killing method sounds like torture. This brings the reality of the death penalty to the forefront, beyond talk of justice for the victim and revenge. If the possibility of wrongful conviction wasn't enough to get the attention of the Justices, or of the plurality of citizens supporting capital punishment, maybe this will.
Dan Stackhouse (NYC)
Seems to me there are two reasonable alternatives to viciously causing someone an agonizing death for no benefit.

First, we could just do away with the death penalty, like all the civilized nations have. I know, people say we're not ready for modern society yet, we take too much pleasure in causing pain, but I think we can learn to be more culturally mature if we work at it. Also if we get rid of the death penalty, we will definitely stop executing innocent men by mistake (I'd say "people", but women practically never get the death penalty).

Second, we could execute people in a modern and humane manner, and it's actually pretty easy for us to do it painlessly nowadays. We'd just have to give someone some sleeping pills, wait until they're unconscious, then have a laser act as a guillotine; nearly instant, painless death.

So as I see it, those are the options, or we could go the Republican route and choose to stay barbaric. If we want to be barbaric, I guess I can't stop us, but in that case we should refrain from ever commenting on the morality of other nations again.
Tullymd (Bloomington, vt)
You got it. Sedate them with potent oral med. Then when asleep a helium tent. No oxygen. No chance of suffering. That is what the euthanasia people do.
Bill M (California)
Is it less barbaric (or more so) to put death sentence convicted heinous criminals who are unquestionably guilty away for years in small cells, often in solitary confinement as compared to peacefully going to sleep painlessly? Why is living years in small cells deemed not barbaric while dozing off without pain is somehow a terrible moral crime?
kauff (colorado)
Probably there are some people out there who deserve to die for what they have done...

...BUT I have NO confidence that our justice system will not also kill other people who do not deserve to die -- including completely innocent people. Almost certainly we have already done so -- and no doubt some are justifiably nervous that we will learn about the horrible things they have done under the banner of justice.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
Almost certainly we have not killed innocent criminals. Or almost certainly we have already done so. H'mmmm. Neither can be proven. But one fits you better than the other which makes you... ?

On another note I'm guessing that you'd prefer to know that an innocent person will be spending the rest of his life rotting away in a cell because you won't let him die.
Here (There)
I think the court's in a big hurry to put to rest all these questions, including "the right to know" who makes the drugs so the can harass the kids of the employees.
michjas (Phoenix)
Lethal injection is the primary means of execution in every death penalty state. Executions in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Arizona have been botched of late. The difficulty of acquiring the necessary chemicals is at the root of the problem. The Supreme Court has ruled that some pain is acceptable but seriously botched executions are likely to be deemed cruel and unusual. The granting of cert here suggests that the 4 liberal judges are deeply displeased with the botched executions and are ready to impose higher standards on the states. Whether they can get a fifth vote remains to be seen.
Henry Bennett (NYC)
There hopefully will be some "friend of the court" input here. The triad being proposed, i.e. midazolam (Versed), a muscle paralyzing drug, and then potassium chloride to stop the heart does not produce unconsciousness only "sedation" from the benzodiazepine Versed. We learned that in the late '80's when it was tried as a complete anesthetic. Now the person will not move due to the muscle paralysis but that has no effect .. none .. on consciousness. You end up with sedation not loss of consciousness. Oh, and the tolerance for benzodiazepines.. a factor of a hundred or so. Wrong drug.
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
I've had 14 surgeries since 1999. I remember nothing of them except for the ones where I was needed to assist and even those are only partial memories. People die on operating tables all the time. How much further from unconsciousness to pain is it to death?
Maybe one should think about the eventual consequences of raping and murdering an infant. These kinds of acts are sickening.
Jack (Illinois)
Then you become that person you want to kill. What makes you any different? Do you think that another killing will bring relief to the survivors? It doesn't, and this has been proved time after time.

Just because you want to kill a person who committed this murder doesn't make your outrage any more than mine. What makes you think that I am any less disturbed by such a senseless and violent acts? Just because you want to kill again and I don't?

I would bet that you have never considered the points that I have brought up. Maybe it is time for society to start to question why they want to kill.
upstater (NY)
@ Jack in Illinois: In most instances you refer to, there is indeed, a measure of vengeance felt by all towards a vicious criminal who is absolutely guilty of his particular heinous act. Again, I say "absolutely, smoking gun guilty". There is no reason to ask why or analyze the mind of such a vicious killer, but to remove him from society quickly and efficiently. I, for one, don't ever want him to ever have the opportunity to do it again. Ask those families of the victims what they would like to see done.....I doubt you'd find more than a small percentage who share your philosophy.
Doug504 (New Orleans)
Yes the acts are sickening.

But the consequence is so far removed from the crime that the death penalty is no deterrent. "If you do something sickening today then 10 or 20 years from now we might execute you" is not a consequence heinous people are going to worry about.
AJ (Burr Ridge, IL)
Suffering---this is what this court is all about--we have at least 4 justices who strongly believe that pain is a virtue---the more the better. This is a group who would rule against the release of the torture report. Take away the statue of justice, and replace it with the stone inscribed: "what does not kill you, makes you stronger. What a group of "justices."
Fern (Home)
Pharmaceutical companies obviously have way too much power in this country. Their lobbying has paid off to the point of free-for-all, in which they can get away with selling harmful or just useless compounds to the public with the endorsement of health officials. Now they are dictating our execution policies. Madness. They need to be more firmly regulated.
Norman (NYC)
The European, not the American, pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing these drugs. European law prohibits drug manufacturers from selling them for the purpose of execution.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
Why doesn't some American company manufacture pentobarbital?
Norman (NYC)
It's not profitable. There has been massive consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry. Free trade and all.
I am unequivically against the death penalty. Not just because innocents have been executed. Not just because the mentally unfit have been executed. But because it is morally wrong. How can we ever be truly credible in saying killing is wrong, when the state can murder in this way? If someone attacked my child as one of these men did, would I want to destroy him with my bare hands? Probably. But what differentiates me from him is that I will not act on that impulse no matter how rageful I may feel. A true test of a moral society is when, in the face of the most heinous of crimes, it can still behave in a civilized manner. It's time we caught up with the rest of the industrialized world, in this and other matters. We are not barbarians. Or are we?
Irlo (Boston, MA)
Extremely well-said. Thank you.
Paulo (Europe)
"How can we ever be truly credible in saying killing is wrong, when the state can murder in this way?" This is a often repeated point against the death penalty, as if it represents some official government or moral position everyone has but it is simplistic and wrong. Some of us believe, as I do, that the victim's families are their owed justice and what we strangers feel about it is moot. I also feel there are simply some crimes so barbaric that the death penalty is not even adequate. There is nothing barbaric or uncivilized in these positions, yet the righteous come forward to lecture us time and time again.
Air Marshal of Bloviana (Over the Fruited Plain)
It is morally wrong for the stewards of a civilized country to not exact an equal price for the wanton killing of a mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter. Any less of a price is to trivialize the sanctity of life.
Pets are put to sleep every day, I don't understand why this argument still continues. What happened to the gas chamber? I don't a agree with the death penalty in general, but certain crimes are so vicious that they scream for vengeance. The rape and murder of an 11 month old, is such a crime.
third.coast (earth)
If you just google "wrongful convictions" you will find people who were on death row for that type of crime - rape and murder of a child - but who, after a couple of decades in prison, were proven innocent.
curtis dickinson (Worcester)
And they were freed. This proves that our justice system works.
Scott V. (Duluth, MN)
Except for the fact that many innocent people have been freed because of journalists and activists working outside the justice system. Also, what of those who were not freed?
Jack (Illinois)
America's moral standing in the world is fouled by capital punishment. There is no deterrent argument. The only reasonable reading that we have the death penalty is for revenge. It is much more expensive to maintain death row jails. The reasons to keep the death penalty in our society is falling by the wayside, albeit little by little. I hope that I see the elimination of the death penalty in America in my lifetime.
Faith (Ohio)
It is difficult to reconcile that our society still embraces capital punishment. By virtue of implicit bias alone, we are likely to make grievous errors in judgment. Then, we have brutal interrogations resulting in coerced, untrue confessions. And the faultiness of eyewitness testimony that really ought not to have a presence in prosecutions, and our less than complete understanding of mental illnesses. At the least, we could pause to consider that killing the guilty is favored by societies we deem to be barbaric and out of step with modernity.
Michael (Los Angeles)
Opponents of the death penalty in principle are forced to contest each element of executions in practice in order to chip away at the arguments that the death penalty is neither cruel nor unusual. It would be far better for legislators and courts at the state and federal level to ban the death penalty outright instead of repeatedly arguing why this method or that method is or is not permissible. Some states have banned the death penalty and a few brave governors have used their authority to at least temporarily block capital punishment.

The search for an acceptable means of execution will continue as long as the death penalty is considered lawful. The difficulty is to find something that is quick, apparently painless, that prevents movements or vocalizations during the execution process, and looks non-violent. Anything else will look cruel. Since no drug company has created a drug designed to kill people and no doctors are trained to kill people or permitted to execute people, it is predictable that we will never find a drug combination that works well enough.

The Supreme Court must ban the death penalty, period.
Jim Steinberg (Fresno, California)
The quest to find a no muss, no fuss method of legal slaying is an obscene absurdity.
Joe (Iowa)
Especially when they already exist.
JEFF S (Brooklyn, NY)
What kind of a sick country do we live in today. Every civilized country in the world has done away with this medieval reminder of where humanity used to reside. When will the USA join the civilized portion of the world.
windyjammer (Illinois)
The Republicans just won total control of Congress and the country is a sea of Red states. In addition, we have five very conservative justices on the Supreme Court. Don't count on the US joining the civilized world anytime soon.
Paulo (Europe)
"What kind of a sick country do we live in today. Every civilized country in the world has done away with this medieval reminder of where humanity used to reside."

The US put to death about 30 people last year, while there were over 30,000 gun-related deaths. Like the outrage against police, why can't Americans see the forest for the trees?
Alan (KC MO)
Fine. Give them a choice between hanging and a firing squad and be done with all these drug appeals.
Michael (Los Angeles)
Hanging is messy and violent. The more violent the method the more likely the courts will ban it.
casual observer (Los angeles)
No cruel and unusual punishments says the Constitution, even for serial killers and child chillers. The 18th century penalty for treason against the King was to be half hanged, drawn by arms and legs by horses, eviscerated with the entrails set on fire, followed by beheading, and being cut up into quarters. It actually took less time than one of the recently botched executions by lethal injection.

The states, some states, are using a trial and error process for determining effective lethal chemical compounds with the condemned being their test animals. Somebody's favorite expert thinks that this or that compound will do the trick but that expert is just makings an educated guess, and they just try it on the next condemned person, and see what happens.

May be there needs to be rational process for determining what chemicals actually will work before they are used. There likely needs to be testing on animal subjects before they are tried on humans.
Here (There)
In practice, the King usually commuted it to hanging or beheading. At least after 1700.
Kathryn Meyer (Carolina Shores, NC)
Why bother torturing animals? Just do away with the death penalty, as it represents cruel and unusual punishment. The point isn't what the criminal did. What moral compass should we as a society represent? We are not suppose to be about and eye for an eye. It's sickening how many people find the death penalty justified.
upstater (NY)
Sounds good to me. No chance of a "botched" execution!
Neecie O'Leary (So Cal)
When pets are put down - the injection is peaceful and pain free.
Why can't that be the same for humans?
Mrs. Popeye Ming (chicago)
The pets are innocent.
Peter Marshall (Canberra, Australia)
Read the story, Neecie O'Leary. It is because the companies that make those drugs have refused to provide them for human executions.
Edward Allen (Spokane Valley, WA)
The answer is that it is unethical for a doctor to participate in a an execution, and furthermore, it is unethical to experiment on humans to find the right dosage, so even if a doctor was involved it would be guess work.

The other reason it is so difficult is that the companies that make these drugs are in countries that rightly see providing these drugs for executions is to be a co-conspirator to murder.

So you have amateur poisoners doing amateur work with poisons of dubious origin.
L. Rapalski (Liverpool NY)
An 11 month old baby raped and murdered...painless?

I read somewhere that he said he was not a monster...really?

Was he well and truly accused of taking a life?
Then he must give his own.

Painless? Who cares...
Stephen Hampe (Rome, NY)
Who cares?

The rest of HUMANITY.
People who can acknowledge that, while there is evil in this world, also realize the response to wanton cruelty is not the application of MORE wanton cruelty.

You really believe that (parts of) the US standing alone on this demonstrates our moral and intellectual superiority against most of the developed world?

From where does such hubris come?
Jack (Illinois)
Then you become that same person who committed that heinous act. What makes you think that you are any better? Don't drag me down into that hellish place where the only thing we can think of is killing.
Sam (Astoria)
The Eighth Amendment?
Mike C (Chicago)
Perhaps we should ask the poor victims if they were ever uncomfortable at the hands of these violent, convicted offenders. Or are they no longer available to contact?
Kal-El (Mid-western USA)
Exactly correct!

I'm not shedding any tears over the death of a child rapist/murderer, or whether it was "painful".
Jean Knorr (Charlottesville)
So, we want to be no better than those we accuse/convict of heinous crimes?
Dan Stackhouse (NYC)
Of course the victims suffered pain. Do we want to be, as a nation and a government, of the same moral caliber as the criminals? That is, completely uncaring about causing pain?
SI (Westchester, NY)
Though I support the Death Penalty with serious misgivings ( the likelihood of an innocent being put to death ), I am definitely not for pain which is why the drug protocols have to be strict, uniform and closely followed. And a another point is - if there is even a shadow of doubt, the Death Penalty should Not be invoked. In summary, I think I agree with the Liberal Judges.
Kent Scheidegger (Sacramento, CA)
Neverlift, the drug veterinarians use is pentobarbital. Texas has used it in over 30 executions without incident. It does indeed work as well as you and Stone P. say.

Most states have been unable to get it because the Europeans have pressured the manufacturer into restricting its sale to state corrections departments. Anthony says God bless the European Union for doing that. Others, including some prominent death penalty opponents, have noted that it hasn't stopped executions but instead subjected some inmates to needless pain, and the blame for that rests on those who have campaigned for the restrictions.

Congress should simply outlaw the restrictions as illegal restraints on trade. Problem solved.
Norman (NYC)
The Europeans have not "pressured" the manufacturers. The European governments made it illegal to supply drugs for capital punishment. Our government has made certain exports of drugs illegal too. We restricted the sale of *any* drugs to certain countries, like Cuba or Iran. We've also restricted the export of certain drugs, like marijuana. It's not "restraint of trade" to ban the export of drugs. It's a sovereign right to pass laws.

I assume you are not a lawyer.
david (ny)
This case is not about the drugs used but about the death penalty itself.
The four liberal justices probably were the ones to vote to hear the case.
The five conservative justices who support the death penalty will probably vote against the appeal.
I oppose the death penalty because there is always the chance of executing an innocent person.
Death penalty supporters argue that it is more important that every criminal convicted of a vicious crime be executed even if it means occasionally an innocent person is also executed.
Opponents such as myself believe it is more important that an innocent person NOT be executed than it is to execute criminals convicted of vicious crimes.
Comparison of homicide rates in states with and without the death penalty do not support the hypothesis that the death penalty is a deterrent.
Life without parole prevents the criminal from committing another crime as well as for reversal if the conviction is found to be in error.
The death penalty provides no reversal.
Here (There)
Much more likely the conservatives voted for it to get a ruling on this, 5-4 most likely but that's good enough.
ASG (San Francisco, CA)
Will be interesting to see what the Court has to say about the death penalty these days. This barbaric practice will end at some point in America, that much is clear. It's not a question of if. It's a question of when.
dkensil (mountain view, california)
It seems clear that the demise of the death penalty hinges on the replacement of one of the five conservative justices with a more sensible (could be conservative or liberal: just a justice who sees the many wrongs with the practice) justice. It will be interesting, assuming the Democrats win the Presidency in 2016, if that policitian chooses an anti-death penalty replacement despite the expected Republican opposition.
Tristan (Massachusetts)
Indeed, it will. The handful of benighted states that carry on executions are facing difficulties with this practice, and it is increasingly seen by the public as inherently unfair and flawed as a punishment.

Repulsive offenders should be punished and restrained, but descending to their level is morally reprehensible as well.

Replacing capital punishment with life-without-parole is the civilized alternative. Offering assisted suicide to prisoners serving such a sentence and requesting it is a humane and sensible approach.
NYHuguenot (Charlotte, NC)
To descend to their level would require we execute the person in the same manner as the original murder. Our methods are far more humane.
Anthony (London)
God bless the European Union for blocking the sale of execution drugs to the United States.
NeverLift (Austin, TX)
I've never understood the difficulty in achieving a painless execution by injection.

Suffering pets are "put to sleep" by their owners every day, and it is my understanding that the animal quietly passes out in its owner's arms with no indicatiion of distress, then quietly dies.

Why cannot the same drug be used in executions? What am I missing?
Stone P. (Austin, TX)
My first basset hound had to be put to sleep several years ago and the process seemed entirely painless and couldn't have taken more than a second or two.

More recently, my other basset hound had to be put to sleep as well, and it required about a minute of strained breathing. I wouldn't say he appeared "in pain" but it was a marked cry from what I witnessed before. I wonder what sort of drugs were used in both occasions.
Here (There)
Most of their victims suffered for far longer than a minute.
Jack (Illinois)
The moral depravity of the death penalty. We are not talking about putting down terminally ill pets. We're talking about human beings.
Nick (Calif)
With all the concern and failures over the drugs being used for executions, why is that the drugs prescribed for end of life circumstances, such as in Oregon, are not controversial at all? Have never heard of any complaints in that regard - what am I missing?
See also