Saturday, 10 November 2007
Florida ignores national action on executions
Will there be an execution next week or not?
In four separate rulings in other states, the U.S. Supreme Court seems to have put the practice of lethal injection on hold. Yet the Florida Supreme Court, in rulings last week and this week, gave the go-ahead to execute two inmates.
In light of the federal court's ruling, Florida's failure to stay the executions seems particularly cruel. Mark Dean Schwab, convicted in 1991 of the brutal rape-murder of Junny Rios-Martinez, is set to die in Florida State Prison on Thursday. Members of Junny's family are preparing to travel to north Florida to witness the execution -- if it takes place.
It would have made more sense for state authorities to put that execution and the scheduled killing of Ian Lightbourne on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court works out issues surrounding the death penalty. Such a stay would be less stressful on families of victims, who have to live through the buildup of anticipation only to face a last-minute stay. If the federal court follows its established pattern, such a stay is almost certainly coming.
For good reason. Lethal injection -- promoted as a pain-free way to end a condemned person's life -- has instead become a horror show. Most notably, workers at Florida State Prison pushed needles through the veins in Angel Nieves Diaz's arms, causing caustic chemicals to pool in his flesh and creating foot-long burns. But other states have seen problems as well.
A study in the British medical journal The Lancet suggests that many executions didn't go as smoothly as originally believed. Every jurisdiction with legal injection uses a three-drug cocktail to cause death -- a sedative to render the condemned unconscious, followed by a paralytic and a heart-stopping agent. The Lancet's review found inadequate levels of sedative in many of the cases they investigated, suggesting that the executed person was aware, but paralyzed, as painful chemicals seeped into their veins.
Few Floridians who remember Schwab's horrific crime would weep at the thought of him suffering. But that ignores the basic point: Civilized societies don't torture people to death and call it a "humane" execution. Nor should they torment families by leading them to believe an execution is imminent, when all signs point to another delay.
Florida's high court has denied a rehearing of Schawb's petition, but there's nothing stopping Attorney General Bill McCollum from asking the court for a temporary stay on all executions, until the federal court addresses the issue -- as it is poised to do. Gov. Charlie Crist also has the power to stay executions. Action would be preferable to the traumatic last-minute delays in other states.