Death to the Death Penalty

By Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | Op-Ed –

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(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, dog ma)

The recent torturous execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma has propelled the death penalty into the national discourse. The secret three-drug cocktail that prison authorities administered to Lockett – the first to render him unconscious, the second to paralyze him, and the third to stop his heart and kill him – didn’t work as planned. After writhing in pain for 43 minutes, he finally died of a heart attack. Madeline Cohen, a lawyer who witnessed the botched execution, said Lockett had been “tortured to death.” Seasoned reporters, also witnesses, called it “horrific.” President Obama found it “deeply disturbing” and promised a review of how the death penalty is administered.

But the issue is not simply the most “painless,” fair and efficient method the 32 death penalty states should use to put someone to death. It is not just a problem of executing innocent people, or the dubious constitutionality of the death penalty, or racism in its application and imposition, or that the death penalty does not deter homicide, or the higher cost of keeping someone on death row, or that nearly all industrialized countries have abolished capital punishment. The premeditated killing of a human being by the state is just plain wrong, and the United States should abolish it.

A week after Lockett’s execution, the Constitution Project released its report after one of the most comprehensive examinations of capital punishment in the United States. Calling the administration of the death penalty “deeply flawed,” the report focused on procedural deficiencies. It recommended that death penalty states use one drug instead of three to kill their citizens. It called for fewer constraints on post-conviction review of exonerating evidence and videotaping of interrogations to identify false confessions, concluding that over 80 percent of 125 documented false confessions occurred in homicide cases; 20 percent of the defendants in those cases were sentenced to death. It recommended the abolition of the death penalty for “felony murder,” in which a person participates in, but does not commit, the homicidal act. It expressed concern about inconsistent application of the ultimate penalty since the Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that intellectually disabled individuals should not be executed. It criticized states such as Texas, Alabama and Pennsylvania for compensating capital defense lawyers so poorly that it is “nearly impossible” to receive a proper defense. And it urged death penalty states to determine whether there are racial disparities in the application of the death penalty. The bipartisan panel did not, however, recommend abolition of capital punishment.

Innocents on Death Row

A new study just released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences determined that 1 in every 25, or 4.1 percent, of people on death row, are innocent. But the innocence rate is more than twice the rate of exoneration. That means an unknown number of innocent people have been put to death. “Every time we have an execution, there is a risk of executing an innocent. The risk may be small, but it’s unacceptable,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Read more…. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/23685-death-to-the-death-penalty

 

Reprinted with permission