Criminal Justice

Should State Executioners Be I.D.'ed?

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From an AP report:

Most of the 37 death penalty states shield execution team members' identities. Last month, Missouri lawmakers approved a bill that would allow members of execution teams to sue anyone—including news organizations—who discloses their identities. It hasn't been signed into law.

[Richard] Dieter, [head of the Death Penalty Information Center], said he believes protecting the identity of executioners helps anesthetize the public to what takes place in the death chamber.

Dieter's group, along with the ACLU, also thinks many incompetents are involved in lethal injection:

Death penalty opponents say Newton's May 24 lethal injection was the latest in a series of botched executions nationwide, and that executioners' identities and professional credentials should be open to public scrutiny.

They point to the case of Dr. Alan Doerhoff, a participant in Missouri executions who was revealed in news reports to have been sued for malpractice more than 20 times. The state is no longer using his services.

They also point to the December execution of Florida inmate Angel Diaz, who took 34 minutes—twice as long as usual—to die. Executioners administered a rare second dose of lethal chemicals to Diaz, and an autopsy found the needles had been pushed through Diaz's veins into the flesh of his arms.

Critics of both groups argue that they're really trying to ban the death penalty by other means: "They're setting up this Catch-22, saying only a doctor can do that, and knowing the doctor's association won't let them do it."

More here.

Death penalty cases have a way of going wrong, that's for sure. Jacob Sullum muses on the death penalty and lethal injection here.

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  1. off with their heads…

  2. Wish I could still scoff at these things and make snarky comments about how they deserve not mercy.

    I can’t now. I’ve seen the “justice” system’s workings too many times now. Too many false convictions, too much planted evidence, too many prosecurtors who actually do consider it a “badge of honor” to have convicted an innocent.

  3. I assume that what the DPIC really wants is to file suit against every executioner to make the job not worth the expense. They do have a point with the notion of weeding out incompetent executioners, but maybe exemptions could be made in cases where the execution was deemed unacceptable.

    Does anybody know what happens now in cases where the executioner makes a “malpractice”level mistake?

  4. I don’t trust the state to take a life (banishment fan), but…

    They point to the case of Dr. Alan Doerhoff, a participant in Missouri executions who was revealed in news reports to have been sued for malpractice more than 20 times.

    Isn’t a doctor with a long malpractice track record exactly what prison execution personnel are looking for? Are they really looking at hiring a doctor who excels at keeping patients alive? And do they need a doctor to hit a vein? I’m damn near a hospital groupie I’m there so much and I’ve never had an MD even look at the crook of my arm, much less inject anything into it. (Or place an IV or draw blood.) They like feeling and measuring my neck, though…

  5. SugarFree-

    I see your point, but an execution, like anything else, can be botched. A doctor with a record of malpractice is a person with a record of botching things that he was paid to do.

    I wouldn’t hire that doctor to do, well, anything.

  6. Paging Dr. Kevorkian…

  7. The FBI really should have faked Dr. Kevorkian’s death in his cell then put him to work streamlining the lethal injection process in exchange for his freedom

    Wait, wasn’t that the plot of la femme nikita? And like six hacker movies? Crap

  8. Consider yourself fortunate, SugarFree. A 19 year old Navy corpsman can do a better job finding a vein than an MD.

  9. I am pretty seriously anti-death penalty but not for reasons like so-called “botched” executions nor concern for the suffering of the prisoner. If the guy dies the execution is not botched. I simply do not believe the state has the right to take a life as a form of punishment. I reserve the right to change my opinion the minute it is expedient to do so.

    As for the general public becoming inured to the realty of the death penalty that is a mendacious argument. Capital punishment is exceedingly rare, and just as importantly I would suggest that the public is far more anesthetized to the malevolence of the crimes that result in the death penalty than to the disposition of the ultimate sentence. The choices made by those who will ultimately be put down by execution leave me no room for sympathy for their circumstances. But I see no reason to identify the executioners. They are not killers they are agents of the state. If Missouri still needs a guy I think Fred Leuchter is available.

  10. thoreau,

    I know, I know. Mostly just engaging in gruesome humor. It’s the weird dueling desires we have as a culture about the death penalty that I was mostly commenting on. “Look, we’re going to strap you to this rack and pump you full of poison, but everything will be OK because this nice doctor’s going to do it.” WTF?

    From the sword to the ax to the noose to the guillotine to the firing squad to the electric chair to the gas chamber to lethal injection we keep sanitizing the process and hoping to cause the prisoners less pain, but the underlying fact still remains: when it’s over, you are dead. That’s the brutal part; everything else is just a means to an end.

    Hell, I’m not even saying that some people don’t deserve death for their crimes, but if the state is going to kill someone on my behalf, then let’s at least keep the absurdity of it to a minimum.

  11. joe,

    I have a lot of blood drawn. I’ve seen so many phlebotomists over the years, I could write a Consumer Reports rating guide. If people trained to do it, who do it all day, are, in general, that incompetent at it, I shudder to think how bad an MD could screw it up. About 80% of the time, two different techs dig around in my arm awhile before getting enough blood. Every time they do that I end up with 2″ deep black bruises on my arm. I go to work looking like the last 20 minutes of Sid and Nancy.

  12. OK, just ignore that “consider yourself fortunate” part.

  13. Why don’t they just go back to death by firing squad? You really can’t mess that up. Five .30 caliber rounds simultaniously to the chest is about as painless of a death as I can imagine.

  14. It seems to me that we should offer a buffet of death choices. I mean, the guy’s going to die, regardless, so why not let him select the means of his death? Within reason, of course. I have visions of requests for death by old age, death by alien invasion, and, of course, death by Pythonian topless women.

    What would be good, not unusually cruel, and cost-effective means of execution? I suppose death by stampeding horses is out.

    I oppose the death penalty myself, but we might as well do it up right if we’re going to do it.

  15. Firing squads often screw up, and miss the vital parts. That’s why that method was phased out.l

    Even hardened combat veterans get shaky when they’re snuffing out a bound prisoner like that.

  16. Pro,

    Many states used to give the condemed a choice between options like hanging, firing squad or electric chair. It is pretty well established that the electric chair is a very painful death. Hanging can be painless, but it is an art and very easy to screw up, as seen in the Saddam Hussein execution. Apparently, lethel injection is easier to screw up than previously thought. I am telling you, firing squad is the best way to do it humanly.

  17. Maybe so, Joe. I can see where it would take never. Of course you could replace the squad with rifles fixed with some kind of triggering mechanism. Then you just push a button.

  18. ProGLib – like that scene in the Meaning of Life…

  19. This is another job which could be farmed out to the Chinese; I believe their preferred (and highly effective) method is a bullet to the head from close range, rather than the more cinematic firing squad from a distance.

    But the question remains: Why? Why is it necessary for the government to be in the revenge-murder business at all?

  20. VM,

    Precisely.

    If America were historically cool, it would allow the condemned to fight to the death on stage before the entire nation. If the condemned were to win, then his sentence would be commuted to life in prison. Unfortunately, America is not historically cool. Which is why we lack a moon base and flying cars.

  21. “They like feeling and measuring my neck, though…”

    Why?

  22. The French revolution ruined Dr. Guillotin’s baby for us, just like Hitler killed the Charlie Chaplin mustache

  23. BREAD AND CIRCUSES!!!!

  24. VM,

    Indeed!

    Also, as I’ve pointed out in this forum before, the 13th Amendment exempts convicts, so slavery is a possible alternative to death, too.

  25. “Why is it necessary for the government to be in the revenge-murder business at all?”

    Originally, the state took over revenge-killing from the deceased’s kin, so as to interrupt feuds before they got started. That’s also why the cases are called “the People of Whatever vs. John Smith” rather than “John Brown’s Family vs. John Smith.”

  26. “Originally, the state took over revenge-killing from the deceased’s kin, so as to interrupt feuds before they got started.”

    Fucking statists.

  27. Wasn’t it PJ O’Rourke who came up with the best argument against the DP:

    that it’s run by the same idiots who run the post office, and the post office can’t even get the mail delivery right. And it’s got our address on it, n stuff.

  28. I would suggest that the public is far more anesthetized to the malevolence of the crimes that result in the death penalty

    I would suggest the public is far more anesthetized to the incompetence of the justice system in convicting innocent people and trumping up the charges on those arrested so it can improve its batting average. Not to mention the extreme sentences handed down to non-violent criminals.

    Fact is, the public wants blood far more than it wants justice and competence. The state provides that blood and in return the public doesn’t get their hands dirty. The only problem with this arrangement is the monopolistic pricing.

  29. mrspeabody,

    I’m moderately fat and have a thick neck. Every doctor is convinced I have sleep apnea but I have none of the symptoms and I’ve never complained about it to them. I think I may be a medical mystery.

    Tonight, on FOX. House and his team scramble to solve the shocking case of the fat guy who breathes normally in his sleep. After this patient, NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME!

  30. “Originally, the state took over revenge-killing from the deceased’s kin, so as to interrupt feuds before they got started.”

    Fucking statists.”

    There are places on earth where blood feuds still go on. They are generally hell holes. The state has to step in and give people a sense of justice. If you don’t, the people act for themselves and you end up with blood feuds and outright carnage. Where the state fails, inevitably society will act.

  31. I’m not exactly in the capital punishment camp, though I can certainly accept it for government employees.

    What I don’t get is the fetishism of protocol. The death punishment should be done in the exact same manner as the original death that caused the punishment in the first place. The only time there should be a choice is when it’s a multiple murder.

  32. Death by “The Aristocrats”!

  33. The death penalty debate is very interesting and all, but I think the debate about the executioners’ identities is important as well.

    On what basis would the state prevent a private individual from promulgating information they independently obtain?

    As far as I am aware, individual state governments don’t have the privelege of declaring state secrets. In addition, the federal government’s primary power to punish the release of classified information seems to be directed at federal employees who release information they acquire in the course of doing their job. They don’t seem to have much ability at all to punish a private individual who happens to learn something the government might wish to keep secret.

    If I independently determine the identity of an executioner, how do they expect to stop me from telling others about it?

  34. If I independently determine the identity of an executioner, how do they expect to stop me from telling others about it?

    Fluffy,

    By killing you.

  35. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is bruised and spongy.

  36. Wasn’t it PJ O’Rourke who came up with the best argument against the DP:

    that it’s run by the same idiots who run the post office, and the post office can’t even get the mail delivery right. And it’s got our address on it, n stuff.

    Wouldn’t this argument apply as well to the army and the police? It seems like you need to be a full-bore anarchist to sincerely believe that if goverment fails to do one thing well, that proves it can’t do anything at all.

  37. Surely the marketplace could find somebody who thinks it’s cool to kill people and not get arrested.

  38. That Femputer, she’s just got snu snu on the brain. The other day we asked her how to tell if a turkey was done roasting and she said “MEASURE THE INTERNAL TEMPERATURE OF THE THIGH, WHICH IS GOING TO TAKE LONGEST TO COOK, BY SNU SNU!”

  39. The FBI really should have faked Dr. Kevorkian’s death in his cell then put him to work streamlining the lethal injection process in exchange for his freedom

    Didn’t Kevorkian just perform the same euthanasia procedure that veternarians do every day?

  40. “Surely the marketplace could find somebody who thinks it’s cool to kill people and not get arrested.”

    Remember the stories about hordes of people who volunteered to be on the Gary Gilmore execution party?

  41. As good a time as any to talk about it…

    “Back in the day” (pre-Bill of Rights) weren’t the bad guys “hanged by the neck until dead”?

    So when the Bill of Rights talks about “cruel and unusual punishment”, they aren’t talking about hanging. Maybe, just maybe, the Founding Fathers were talking about Life in Prison.

    CB
    Disclaimer: I believe in the Death Penalty. I DON’T believe in Life in Prison. Life in Prison IS cruel and unusual. If a member of a civilized society can’t be rehabilitated in, say, 5 years, then they no longer have a right to remain in that society. No sentence should exceed that rehabilitation period, whatever it is. And if another crime is committed AFTER that rehabilitation period, then society no longer has a need for that individual.

  42. I am against the death penalty and all… not that I don’t feel that there are plenty of people who deserve to die – but death isn’t reverseable if it turns out the person is innocent… and guilt is not usually a factor in convictions (the example from Pen & Tellers Bullshit was of the guy who was on death row for 7 years, for a murder that was commited WHEN THE GUY WAS IN ALREADY IN PRISON, AND COULDN’T HAVE POSSIBLE COMMITED THE CRIME!!! The prosecuters had evidence that 100% proved the guy was innocent, yet continued to fight to have the guy executed for 7 years). Also, I am sure where the death penalty is legal, people like joe and Dan T want to use it to stop transfats or something, so it is only a matter of time before it will be used on me.

    However, I hate lawsuits like this one. If you are going to oppose the death penalty, simply oppose the death penalty. But don’t engage in petty harrasment like this, it just makes the anti-death-penalty crowd look dumb.

  43. Disclaimer: I believe in the Death Penalty. I DON’T believe in Life in Prison. Life in Prison IS cruel and unusual. If a member of a civilized society can’t be rehabilitated in, say, 5 years, then they no longer have a right to remain in that society. No sentence should exceed that rehabilitation period, whatever it is. And if another crime is committed AFTER that rehabilitation period, then society no longer has a need for that individual.

    What happens in the case, like I mentioned above, when the person sentenced to death had 100% proof of their innocence. The guy I mentioned took 7 years to have their conviction thrown out, despite having absolute undeniable proof of his innocence (and the prosecutor had that evidence the guy was innocent BEFORE the guy even went on trial). You support putting innocent people like him to death?

  44. “I am telling you, firing squad is the best way to do it humanly.”

    WTF?

    There are lots of less painful or traumatic ways to kill someone. Hell, dropping the proverbial 20 ton weight on their head while they sleep would be more humane than shooting them. Or the plastic explosive helmet. The way to make it less cruel is to destroy the brain utterly and instantly.

    The state, however, shouldn’t be in the business of killing people.

  45. StartTrite

    That is a different problem, and should be dealt with appropriately. By the way, in your case (in my world), the guy wouldn’t have been in jail for 7 years anyway. Remember, whatever it was he did, if he wasn’t sentenced to death at the first trial, he would have been out in 5 (or less), fully rehabilitated.

    Now, about “bad prosecutors”. Obviously, to get my “5 and out or die” implemented, there would have to be a lot of changes. Perhaps if the District Attorneys weren’t spending so much time prosecuting “consensual criminals” (ie. drug cases) then perhaps they’d have more time to do a thorough and competent job on the crimes involving violence to others.

    CB

  46. PARSE SHALL GET NO SNU SNU.

  47. “STARTRITE”

    Uh… should be “Start being trite” and then “Rex Rhino – I didn’t say there wouldn’t be problems” and then it was supposed to say “End being trite”.

    Ich spreche nicht HTML

    Sorry.

    CB

  48. Neu Mejican: I’m anti-death penalty, but what does “humane” mean in your opinion? It sounds to me like “less pain” is your version of humane. My definition of humane includes compassion and sympathy for others. Compassion and sympathy don’t always mean less pain. Many times, “dying like a man” means something to these people.

  49. Lamar,

    Sure, good point. And the real pain of the execution comes from the time sitting in your cell waiting for it. I was responding to the idea that the 5 bullets to the chest was quick and painless.

    My idea of humane would be to treat prisoners with respect even when they are deserving of their confinement. To provide educational opportunities and other mechanisms that can help them turn themselves into the kind of person worthy of release. If they don’t take those opportunities, respectful confinement might be a life sentence. If they do, a reasoned parole process can allow them to demonstrate their rehabilitation.

  50. I have no philosophical objection to the death penalty for murderers, but I am opposed to keeping the identities of executioners a secret. If you don’t want people to know what job you do, then don’t take the job.

  51. ktc2
    Glib, yes. Snide, certainly. Snarky…heaven forfend

    btw…try to get that knot out of your panties before you go out today.

  52. “Tonight, on FOX. House and his team scramble to solve the shocking case of the fat guy who breathes normally in his sleep. After this patient, NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME!”

    Followed by a very special episode of Whose Line.

    Daddy, do you really kill people for a living?

  53. minion
    No Panties…
    ohhh, that makes me so hot, I could just pull the switch…

  54. Not even a gentle, rhythmic pulling?

  55. I propose a firing squad made up entirely of doctors.

  56. how about a little tug, just one? please oh please…

  57. Ron
    in a circle? with gentle rhythmic pulling?

  58. Ron Hardin,

    I’m really amazed that firing squads are NOT used for executions anymore. Cheap, quick, effective, and very difficult to screw up.

    The only reason I can think of is that lethal injection is an easier sell to the bleeding hearts out there; it’s just like putting your dog to sleep, whereas a firing squad involves men with guns.

  59. Jennifer,

    The main reason the names are kept secret is to keep the executed’s family and “associates” from seeking revenge.

  60. Kinda like how many of us here post under pseudonyms of various levels of effectiveness.

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