Friday, 13 April 2007
Death penalty process needs more openness
Lawmakers headed in wrong direction.
The Missouri legislature's reaction to damning news about how the death
penalty is administered in the Show Me state is akin to killing the
messenger. Last year, federal judge Fernando Gaitan Jr., effectively
placed a moratorium on the death penalty after hearing a case that clearly
outlines massive problems with how the ultimate punishment is carried out
Among the discoveries:
- There was no written protocol for how to administer the 3-drug cocktail
used in lethal injection leading to the wrong dosages being used in at
least 2 cases. Gaitan called this a violation of the Constitutional
protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
- The doctor in charge of administering lethal injection wasn't a board
certified anesthesiologist and had been disciplined in the past by state
medical authorities. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation found he had
been sued 20 times.
- The doctor reports to a director of the Department of Corrections who
has no medical training, nor any training in corrections.
And how have lawmakers responded to such allegations?
They've submitted a bill before this year's General Assembly that would
make it a crime to disclose the identities of the individuals in charge of
administering the death penalty.
In other words, rather than fix the problem of hiring a doctor who isn't
qualified and botched the legal injection, let's just put a cloak over his
head so nobody knows anything about him. The bill has already passed
through the House.
Such hubris should offend Missouri taxpayers, no matter where they stand
on the death penalty.
We're firmly against the death penalty, in part because of the so many
inadequacies that have been documented over the years in how the death
penalty is applied. We don't believe it's a deterrent, and we believe one
innocent man killed is enough to convince Americans who believe in justice
that there must be a better, less savage way to punish our worst
But whether you are for or against the death penalty, there is no purpose
served in adding another layer of secrecy to the process. Indeed, it was
secrecy that allowed a doctor of questionable credentials to practice in
Missouri, which is the very act that has put the death penalty in this
state in jeopardy. Openness, not secrecy, is always the path to better
government, more accountability and proper representation.
Contrast the reaction of some Missouri legislators the bill in question,
HB 820, is sponsored by Rep. Danie Moore, a Fulton Republican to that of
the Chicago Tribune.
Since 1869 the Chicago newspaper had editorialized in favor of the death
penalty. But after Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by members of its
staff on the issue and how unfairly it is applied in Illinois and
elsewhere, particularly when it comes to the race of the perpetrator, the
Tribune three weeks ago reversed its stance.
It paid attention to the evidence and reacted accordingly.
Missouri lawmakers instead want to cover up the evidence so as not to
offend their tough-on-crime stance.
It's a ridiculous response to Gaitan's ruling, and the Missouri Senate
should make sure HB 820 gets the punishment it deserves.
A quick and painless death.