Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cruel and Unusual? You Bet.

Sedley Alley is sitting at Nashville’s Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. He would be just minutes from his death had it not been for a brief reprieve reluctantly granted by Governor Bredesen to investigate whether or not lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

No one doubts Alley’s guilt. He confessed (Although later recanted) to the murder of Lance Corporal Suzanne Collins in 1985. I’ve read the details of this murder. It is perhaps one of the most brutal and grotesque crimes imaginable.

Lance Corporal Collins was jogging near the Millington Naval Base in 1985. Alley forced her into a car and took her to a field. He delivered the fatal blow when he struck her in the head with a screwdriver. Thankfully, she was already dead when he shoved a tree limb into her vagina so hard that entered her abdomen and punctured one of her lungs.

Two Marines heard Collins screaming and ran over. By the time they reached the scene, it was too late to save her. But they did see Alley’s car driving away. Within days, he had confessed. His account was considerably more humane than what the physical evidence suggested, but there was still more than enough accurate information to convict him.

There’s never been any real doubt of his guilt. The only mercy he showed was for himself when he tried to pretend that her death was an accident and he only used the tree limb to make police think it was a sex crime. Clearly, he knew what he was doing was wrong, and he did it anyway.

But does that make killing him right in some way? Do we match kill for kill, brutality for brutality?

With all that you hear about lethal injection, it sure sounds humane enough. You get the needle in your arm, then drop gently off to sleep and never wake up, right?

It’s not so cut and dry.

The goal of lethal injection is not to be easier on the person being killed. The goal of lethal injection is to be easier on the person doing the killing.

First, you’re strapped to the gurney. Then the executioner inserts a catheter into each arm and flushes them with a solution to keep them from getting clogged. If you’ve ever been in the hospital and had a clumsy nurse try to start an IV for you, think about that and then imagine what care she might have shown if you’d been convicted of murder and would soon be too dead to sue her.

In one arm, they give you 5000 milligrams of sodium thiopental, which puts you to sleep for about thirty seconds. In the other arm, they give you 100 milligrams of pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes your respiratory system.

Finally, they give you a dose of sodium chloride, which induces cardiac arrest. Within two minutes, the state is declaring you dead.

The British medical journal The Lancet reported on the results of forty-nine autopsies from Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Medical examiners found that in 43 of those executions, the condemned had lower levels of thiopental in their bloodstream than what is required for surgery--- Low enough that they were awake and aware as they slowly suffocated. Without enough thiopental, you remain awake and alert. The pancuronium stops you from moving, but leaves all of your higher brain functions intact.

So in fact, they went through excruciating pain, but since their bodies were crippled, they gave no outward indication.

Let’s put this in perspective. Our standards for euthanizing animals are actually higher than our standards for executing the condemned.

Perhaps it’s simply the origin of the procedure shining through. It was created by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician to Adolf Hitler. How concerned with humanitarianism do you think he was?

So no--- I’m afraid that the question over whether or not lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment is far from a silly one.

We remedy inhumane acts by committing them ourselves. We avenge suffering and death by making others suffer as they die.

How quick are we to become that which we hate?


autoegocrat said...

Too quick. Hate will do that to you.

Based on what I know about lethal injection, I'd rather die at the hands of a firing squad.

If we absolutley must have the death penalty (not trying to start that debate), why don't we just overdose them with morphine? Quick, simple, cheap, gets the job done, and as painless as anything imaginable.

Freedonian said...

I oppose the death penalty altogether. I'm not shy about saying it.

Here's the thing--- Lethal injection is sold to the masses as a humane means of execution because it helps placate people who might be on the fence.

It's just not true, though. People who are willing to accept execution because they believe it to be humane are being deceived.

If we're going to have execution, then I believe we should go back to the machine created by Dr. Guillotine. Not only is it a guaranteed quick death, but the sheer savagery of watching heads fall into baskets might get people thinking about how savage the death penalty is.

LeftWingCracker said...

Oh hell, there would be a mob to cheer from bloodlust when they saw the head hit the basket...

Timewalker said...

I am against it unless the convicted person requests it.
Because too often we have seen new evidence come out after the fact, and while you can always let someone out of a life sentence and say "oops. Sorry 'bout that." There is no coming back from a death sentence.
But if someone would rather be put to death than live the rest of their life in a cage, I think auto is right and an overdose of morphine would be the way to go.

Besides, with the execution always coming so far after the crime, there is not deterrent effect left.

Freedonian said...

Thanks Timewalker. But I'm not even sure we should do it if requested.

If I was convicted of killing someone, I would certainly rather face a speedy execution than a lifetime spent in a tiny box. If the state agreed to kill me, they would be letting me off easy.

Freedonian said...


Sadly, I'm sure many would. But maybe, just maybe if we could change a few minds by showing barbarism for the barbarism that it is, we could get a moratorium.

Timewalker said...

If I was convicted of killing someone, I would certainly rather face a speedy execution than a lifetime spent in a tiny box. If the state agreed to kill me, they would be letting me off easy.

I would feel the same way, but I think most people in that situation wouldn't, self-preservation being so powerful.

But I can definitely see the point of the State not being in the position of assisting a criminal's own suicide.

Timewalker said...

Oh, and thanks for posting this story. I will refer to it to many people who were as unenlightened as I.

Freedonian said...


Thank YOU. I didn't really know much about this until the last year or so. My views on capital punishment put me wildly out of step with a few of my nearest and dearest. But I've gotta do what I've gotta do.

I saw Sister Helen Prejean (The nun Susan Sarandon played in "Dead Man Walking") speak a few months ago, and she was handing out a prayer for the abolitioon of the death penalty. It was quite nice. I'll bring it here later.

Timewalker said...

I actually did a presentation in speech class about capital punishment. It was funny. A conservative university in Missouri. I was the most lberal person there, so I presumed we would be Pro Cap Punishment. At the first meeting, the three others agreed with that stance.

During our first research session, however, the most conservative person in the group said, "Maybe we should argue Con. I mean personally, I'm Pro, but this evidence is going to be tough to argue against." So we ended up arguing against capital punishment and for life w/o possibility of parole.