The Death Penalty: Still “Freakish” After all These Years

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In a 1972 opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the death penalty should not “be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.” Thirty five years later his words still resonate.

Take lethal injection.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates how haphazardly the deadly cocktail is administered than yesterday’s revelation in Tennessee. Turns out that the state, which has 102 prisoners on death row, doesn’t have written guidelines listing the appropriate dosage amounts of the three chemicals used during executions. Instead, such details have been passed from prison guard to prison guard, through “oral tradition.” Oral tradition? Are we suddenly talking about handing down the secret family recipe for apple pie? This is insane.

Tennessee’s governor, Phil Bresdesen (a Dem) says he remains a steadfast “supporter of the death penalty”, but admits that this is a “huge failing.” And with four men scheduled to die within the next 90 days he has issued a moratorium on capital punishment, at least until May.

Tennessee’s moratorium comes after similar developments in Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, California, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota and North Carolina.

Which state will be next?

— Celia Perry

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