I am not particularly fond of the current status of the death penalty in the US. I am not opposed to it in principal, but in practice, it is not applied uniformly, and too many people have been found innocent while waiting for their execution. But, even this debate in the SC goes a little too far for me. Is there really that much to be debated on the cruelty of death by injection compared to 'old sparky'?
Court Split Over Death Penalty Method
By GINA HOLLAND, Associated Press Writer
Wed May 18, 4:36 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court's latest clash over the death penalty involves the lethal chemical cocktail used by many states and whether it is an unnecessarily cruel way to die.
The high court temporarily stopped a Missouri execution early Wednesday so justices could consider a last-minute appeal. A few hours later, Vernon Brown was put to death, after justices lifted the stay.
The 5-4 vote was illustrative of the court's sharp division on the death penalty. Earlier this year, by the same vote, the justices issued a landmark ruling barring executions of juvenile killers on grounds they were cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion on that case; in the Brown case, he voted to allow the execution.
Brown was convicted of strangling a 9-year-old girl with a rope after luring her into his home as she walked home from school in 1986. His lawyers contended his execution would be cruel because the drug combination of sodium pentathal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride can paralyze inmates before subjecting them to suffocation, a burning sensation and a heart attack.
"People are raising this issue across the country. It needs to be addressed," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the anti-capital punishment Death Penalty Information Center.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said state leaders could head off a Supreme Court showdown by reviewing their methods of performing executions.
"It doesn't cost much to do it and it's cheaper than to litigate," he said.
The Supreme Court has never found a specific form of execution to be unconstitutional. A 1999 case challenging Florida's electric chair, known as "Old Sparky," was dropped at the high court after Florida added lethal injection as an option.
Lethal injection is used in 37 states because it is considered more humane than options like the gas chamber and hanging. Chemical solutions vary some by state.
Other issues related to lethal injection have reached the court. Last year, justices looked at the case of an Alabama death row inmate who claimed his damaged veins made it impossible to insert an intravenous line without cutting deep into flesh and muscle.
At the time, several members of the court pressed for assurances that Alabama prison staff would consider the best medical procedures for the inmate. In a unanimous ruling, David Larry Nelson won the right to pursue an appeal.
Although Nelson's case did not involve a direct challenge to lethal injection, it prompted lawsuits over the types of drug cocktails used in other states and justices divided on 5-4 votes in a string of emergency appeals from inmates seeking temporary reprieves.