Death penalty leads to inhumane and unjust executions

 Columnist Kendall Grove

Columnist Kendall Grove

Arkansas, where the death penalty has remained dormant for the past 12 years, has recently made the decision to execute seven prisoners in 11 days. The reason these executions were all scheduled consecutively is due to the state’s expiring lethal drugs, but this decision may disregard an innocent man’s life as well as carve a path for inhumane executions.
Stacey E. Johnson was sentenced to death in 1994, after he was convicted of murder and rape. In Johnson’s first trial, he later called for a retest of the DNA samples that were used to convict him, which were samples of hair and a cigarette butt.
According to an appeal from 2006 to the Arkansas court, Johnson’s representation argued that, “Relying on DNA test results indicating that the probability that the hairs belonged to another African American was only 1 in 250, we held that because this ratio included so many persons other than Johnson, he was entitled to retest these hairs.”
Although Johnson’s representation spent ten years attempting to have the DNA samples retested, it never proved to persuade the court. The same appeal stated that, “the circuit court did not order retesting of the negroid hairs; rather, the court went behind this court’s mandate and determined that the State had previously retested the hairs.”        
Johnson asked for a hold on his execution which was granted by the Supreme Court. Johnson may get a chance to prove his innocence, but many have not received that opportunity. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a case study where they estimated that, “if all death-sentenced defendants remained under sentence of death indefinitely at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated.” It was also concluded this percentage was a conservative estimate and may be much higher in reality.
Such swift executions are being blamed on the expiring lethal drugs, but this should be blamed on the shortages.
The typical three drug lethal injection cocktail became a luxury in the U.S. when Pfizer, a manufacturer ofthese drugs, put restrictions on its use in May 2016. The New York Times stated that this was the last “open-market source” left for the the drugs needed in the three drug lethal injection.
Not only is the shortage of drugs creating a problem with rushed executions, but also created a need for a new combination of humane lethal drugs.
Humane lethal drugs may sound contradictory, but until recently the three drug protocol was considered the most humane alternative to options like the electric chair. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “the three-drug protocol uses an anesthetic or sedative, typically followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze the inmate and potassium chloride to stop the inmate’s heart.”
In 2014, Dennis McGuire, who was found guilty of rape and murder, was sentenced to a lethal injection.
Things did not go as planned. Due to the drug shortage, the Ohio facility used a different two drug combination. The Columbus Dispatch reported that, “McGuire struggled, made guttural noises, gasped for air and choked for about 10 minutes before succumbing to a new, two-drug execution method at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.”
With the restraints put on drug manufacturers by the Food and Drug Administration, it has made it hard for states to obtain lethal drugs, which results in cruel or rushed executions.
These unjust situations that are imposed by the death penalty should make us question if it should continue. Other options such as the Sustainability in Prisons Project, which looks to cut housing costs as well as provide meaningful work for incarcerated men, should be considered to offset the tax dollars used to pay for the incarcerated lives spent behind bars.