The Horrors of a “Merciful” Execution

Arizona inmate takes nearly two hours to die by lethal injection in botched execution « Hot Air

Done right, execution by the needle is supposed to take 10-15 minutes. Obviously, this wasn’t done right. Clayton Lockett, the inmate who died during a botched lethal injection three months ago in Oklahoma, ended up having a heart attack on the gurney after 20 minutes. Joseph Wood, the inmate executed yesterday, didn’t have a heart attack; depending upon which of the witnesses you ask, he either “gasped” for two hours or he “snored.” A reporter who watched it happen describes it this way:

This sort of thing doesn’t happen with firing squads, hanging, or guillotines.

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About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


The Horrors of a “Merciful” Execution — 26 Comments

  1. I’m opposed to capital punishment, but instead of blaming the doctor or the state or whatever, let’s blame the fuckin’ Europussies. The snivelling douchebags won’t send pentobarbitol to the US because the US kills people with it. Supplies are about out here, so states are using various other combinations of killer drugs, and these new combinations don’t work so well. This isn’t to say that there are no other effective drug cocktails, just that no generally accepted combination has been found.

    I suggest the US invade Europe and take their pentobarbitol, as well as anything else valuable. I’d also suggest raping all their women, as is common for conquering armies throughout history, but, well, I wouldn’t wish a stinky Parisian woman or mustached Italian woman on anyone.

    • Yes, that would be an attractive solution. Unfortunately, it is essentially illegal in far too many locales.

      And even Rand is kinda sorty squishy about terminal retaliatory force. She seems to think only the state should have that power.

      Why, yes. Another area where Rand and I sink into strong disagreement. (Don’t bother, Chad: Alfred and I have already had the adult discussion of the issue).

  2. I question that premise, actually. Rand herself just didn’t say much on the topic, to the point where saying there’s any kind of “official Objectivist position” on gun control is really a stretch.

    I’ve discussed gun control many times with other Objectivists, including the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, and the general position seems to be that owning and carrying personal defense firearms does not pose an objective threat of the initiation of force against others and therefore should not be a subject of government policy. There should be a post-facto government assessment of self-defense instances to confirm that they really were self-defense, but I don’t think that’s controversial.

    Leonard Peikoff, in his book on Objectivism, wrote that “In a rational society, individuals agree to delegate their right of self-defense; they renounce the private use of physical force even in self-protection (except during those emergencies that require action at once, before the police can be summoned).” I read that as permitting the use of terminal retaliatory force by individuals when faced with an immediate threat to life, limb or property.

    • That’s exactly right. The decision between self defense (this person is trying to harm me and is going to do so within a certain period of time) and the estimate of when the police can be summoned and may happen to show up and may happen to assess the situation correctly and not shoot the wrong person are basically unreconcilable. You protect yourself first. Police are an after the fact idea and rarely are they in the right place and the right time to actually prevent things.

      I may have said this before on this site but about 30 years ago in my hometown a man tried to rob a liquor store in broad daylight. The owner let him have the money, deciding the perp had the draw on him and deciding he probably would take the money and run. Perhaps he took a chance but he was correct. The guy ran. The owner pulled his gun, ran after him and shot him down in the street as he tried to get away. What did the police say? “Nice shooting!” This was a NYC suburb and still the people and the police were on the same page. I wonder if this happened today would the police view it in the same way. Given how far left my solidly conservative county has started to drift, I doubt it.

  3. In real-world terms, of course, the sort of “rational society” that Leonard Peikoff wrote about, based upon his description of “self-defense” in such a system, does not exist, nor does it appear that it ever has. Anyone attempting to adhere to his explication of “self-defense” will, therefore, unavoidably find themselves at hazard of losing property, life or limb.

    In Reality-Land, though – where all of us live, though only some of us choose to recognize that fact – an individual’s inherent, in-born right to self-defense is, in the end, that individual’s personal responsibility. In current times, in fact, we’ve seen government agencies – most notably, police departments – deny that they have any responsibility to defend any particular individual against attack or other aggression, and that denial has been upheld by the courts. That alone makes Peikoff’s statements irrelevant.

    I found the following – from the beginning of the page at the Ayn Rand Lexicon, the first link Bill posted up above – far more interesting in the context of capital punishment, as perhaps the most compelling argument in favor of it I’ve come across:


    The necessary consequence of man’s right to life is his right to self-defense. In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. All the reasons which make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative. (emphasis added)

    Consider: If we (as a “civilized society”) view administering of the death penalty as retaliation against individuals who have – by their prior actions – initiated physical force against others – provided we agree with this statement, said death penalty becomes, in large part, a moral imperative, does it not?

    To continue (in this context):

    If some “pacifist” society renounced the retaliatory use of force, it would be left helplessly at the mercy of the first thug who decided to be immoral. Such a society would achieve the opposite of its intention: instead of abolishing evil, it would encourage and reward it.

    Although this is, of course, a “theoretical” – and a fairly extreme one – it would seem to conceivably apply, should we ever reach the point where the application of the death penalty itself becomes legally proscribed, perhaps as being inherently “cruel and unusual punishment”.

    In point of fact – some of the States now seem to be coming closer and closer to such legal proscription, either on a de facto basis or by outright statement.

    The increasingly-clumsy attempts to develop and apply a literally-“painless” execution methodology are only making matters worse – and are one factor perhaps edging some States closer and closer to such proscription.

  4. J.S.:

    One state, Michigan, is not “coming closer… to such legal proscription” but has already so done almost 170 years ago.

    Mandatory life is a serious retaliatory application of force. Some claim life in prison is even more severe than execution.

    • I know full well about Michigan, deanz, I lived there for thirty years – as well as a bit about the 11 (I think that’s the correct number) other States that do not have an active death penalty, having chosen not to reinstate it after SCOTUS ruled it was Constitutionally O.K.

      Mandatory life is a serious retaliatory application of force.

      Given the present state-of-practices when it comes to incarceration, that has become more than a bit questionable, I think. Whether “mandatory” or not, a “life” sentence – even, in many cases, multiple such sentences – has/have become more than somewhat equivocal, being increasingly open to repeated appeals, near-endless reviews, shortened limits on minimum time “inside” before possible probation, etc. There is less and less surety of a “life sentence” being so – or anything approaching such a term. Lessening of that surety, that certainty of the punishment, means considerable lessening of the sentence as “…retaliatory application of force.”

      …Some claim life in prison is even more severe than execution.

      So I’ve heard. Fortunately (for me) I can’t say from personal experience, but from all accounts, being in prison is largely brutal, highly dangerous and can easily be quite deadly, whether in on a life sentence or a (supposedly) lesser term. I’m simply not equipped to judge whether that’s “…even more severe than execution.” – nor do I think that’s pertinent, here.

      Keep in mind: The passage I copied from, and highlighted within, from the Rand Lexicon is Rand talking about self defense, and – in general – the justified application of retaliatory physical force as an expression of self-defense. Her further point – which I highlighted – was that such application was beyond justification, and was in fact a moral imperative. The followup para I quoted pretty clearly expounds the necessity of such application – that to rule out such application of retaliation would have the reverse effect; such a “pacifistic” measure would obviate self-defense, and evil would reign over all.

      I narrowed that, to focus on the topic at hand – legal execution, the application of the death sentence – and to its being a solid statement of just why and how such executions might well be argued to be – as retaliation for the initiation (by a criminal) of physical (i.e., deadly or near-deadly, life-damaging) force) – not just justified, but a moral imperative. Further, I tried to point to the fact that it appears to be becoming more and more a point of contention, in an increasing number of States, that the very act of legal execution is, inherently, “cruel and unusual”, and unacceptable – and that the whole, “kill ’em, but don’t hurt ’em while you’re doin’ it” dance is (along with a couple of other factors) making matters worse and worse.

      Botches like with Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, and apparently with Joseph Wood in Arizona, in service to the idea of “humane” capital punishment, are, I think, edging States closer to an effective end to such executions – which, again in my view (and, I think, by implication Rand’s view), is opposite to the direction that should be taken.

      I had no intent to even consider the question of a life sentence, mandatory or otherwise, as “serious retaliatory application of force” – nor do I see where I stated anything directly on that topic.

      That’s an altogether different stack of statutes.

  5. Yes, I agree, they are likely hypocritical at present. They may, however, be right though it might take decades for it to come to realization.

    Michigan’s mandatory life for Murder 1 may well be a stronger deterrent simply because of its certainty. Death penalty is now so iffy, does it still deter?

    Lot’s of studies on deterrence, murder rates, and the like as Michigan has served as a “laboratory” for going on two centuries.

    • At the risk of appearing to agree with almost anything put out by the Noo Yawk Slimes that’s not clearly, unequivocally factual – which means, pretty much, anything put out by them – I’ll reference the following:

      ABSENCE OF EXECUTIONS: A special report…

      – which, in part states:

      …The Times also found that homicide rates had risen and fallen along roughly symmetrical paths in the states with and without the death penalty, suggesting to many experts that the threat of the death penalty rarely deters criminals.

      ”It is difficult to make the case for any deterrent effect from these numbers,” said Steven Messner, a criminologist at the State University of New York at Albany, who reviewed the analysis by The Times. ”Whatever the factors are that affect change in homicide rates, they don’t seem to operate differently based on the presence or absence of the death penalty in a state.”

      This, if agreed upon, would seem to obviate the whole question of “deterrent effect” WRT the death penalty (which, prior to this point, doesn’t seem to have been under discussion) – not that the “deterrence” issue ever impressed me over-much anyway.

      In fact, whenever I’ve had occasion to discuss this part of the death-penalty issues with someone, my response to the thing about deterrence has always been that, while it may be arguable whether or not said penalty acts to deter anyone from killing someone (or committing any other “capital” crime), there’s clearly no question in my mind that it damn sure “deters” the duly tried, convicted and executed criminal perpetrator from ever doing it again.

      Any sort of “statutory deterrence” is, in my view, an oversold ideal when it comes to punishment for criminal acts. If an individual’s motivation to do something that’s considered a criminal act is sufficient – and it doesn’t take much for actual criminals; breaking laws is what they do – any alleged “deterrence” has already faded from view, mostly long since. That’s ever more so the case as surety of punishment continues to fade away.

      • Well, since the death penalty as it once was known no longer exists and is, in effect, a life sentence with lots and lots of appeals, it shouldn’t be surprising that the difference between states with life sentencing and states with life sentences that are called death penalties shouldn’t be very noticeable.

        It would be interesting to see a comparison between a state that carried out death penalties within a year of first conviction, and those with only a life sentence, though.

        • I agree that that would be an interesting – and possibly somewhat-determinative – kind of comparison, especially if Michigan’s stats were included (it being, by far, the most continuously-long-term non-death penalty State, I believe). The biggest problem, of course, would be coming up with a State that does executions within a year (or even two years, I’d guess) of conviction – I don’t imagine such a State exists currently, nor does it seem likely there has been any such for a very long time.

          That Noo Yawk Slimes “report” I linked to, BTW, has some pretty stoopid stuff in it, even for them. For instance:

          …half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average.

          – which might sorta sound marginally significant, until you actually think about what that even means: Well, DUH! – half of 38 (the number of States with active death-penalty laws, 50 minus 12) is only 19 States out of the 50, substantially less than half the total number of States – what statistical significance attaches there? Roughly…zero.

          But then, it’s from the NYT’s “crack reporting/editorial staff”, so…

                • Sure. Everything in the Times falls apart once you take a good look at it.

                  On an almost totally unrelated note, a memory triggered by this subthread: When I was in Korea, one of the other lieutenants and I were walking through the ’ville one Spring evening. My buddy was eying a pretty Korean woman, who smiled back before taking a step into an alley, putting down a newspaper, hiking up her skirt, and taking a dump on the paper. She then rolled it up and put it back under her arm before resuming her walk.

                  I’m sure that newspaper wasn’t the New York Times. But dammit, it should have been!

                • I’m pretty sure there’s a nasty but humorous comment in that recollection of SteveF’s involving “walking a/the dog” and “cleaning up after him/her/it” somewhere, but it’s gotten very late out kinda early tonite, and I’m not going to go looking for it…

              • Sorta puts me in mind of one of those old (and mostly-childish, of course) primary school call-and-response rudenesses:

                Q. “So, whadda think of the rectum butt-crack as (surrounding) a whole?”

                A. “I see it as a jam-packed, filthy establishment, that should be throughly wiped out at the earliest opportunity!”

                – just don’t try to use The Rag Of Record to do the job, right?

  6. Thanks, Bill, for sharpening the question: does death penalty add significant marginal deterrence beyond life in prison? In this age of death penalty uncertainty, I suspect the answer is “no”.

    Further, as you intimated, the cost to the state to finally implement a death sentence is now pretty much on a par with housing a lifer in max security.

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