Monday, 14 January 2008

Is it important to know the background of execution team members?

Is it important to know the background of execution team members?

01/13/2008 5:15 pm

In a Post-Dispatch story out today, we reveal that a member of the death-row execution team for the Missouri and the federal prison system has a criminal past. In fact, the licensed practical nurse from Farmington had to get special permission from top state and federal prison officials to travel to the lethal-injection execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh because at the time he was on supervised probation as a convicted stalker.

The nurse had pleaded no contest in St. Francois County to misdemeanor counts of stalking and tampering with property of a man who had a relationship with the nurse’s estranged wife. He paid the victim $750 and was ordered to serve two years of supervised probation.

The Post-Dispatch article comes at a time that the entire process of lethal-injection executions — from how they are perfomed to the training and backgrounds of those who are performing them — are under increasing scrutiny. In fact, such executions are on hold in about three-dozen states and the federal system as they await a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a Kentucky case that alleges the current lethal injection process can cause cruel or unusual punishment to inmates.

Today’s story is the second time the Post-Dispatch has revealed the name of a member of Missouri’s execution team. In July 2006, we reported the name and background of a doctor who had been involved in state executions.

That came after a federal judge in Kansas City had suspended the state’s lethal-injection executions. The judge did so out of concern about the doctor’s qualifications and methods, and out of concern that the state couldn’t guarantee it wasn’t delivering unconstitutionally cruel punishment in its death chamber.

In a note to readers, Post-Dispatch editor Arnie Robbins noted that after that article the state legislature revised state law to ban any person from “knowingly disclosing the identity of a current or former member of an execution team.” Robbins said, “We believe the law is unconstitutional, and we also believe it stifles public discussion and hinders governmental accountability.”

Do you agree? Read the story and let us know what you think. How important is knowing the backgrounds of those performing executions? Should it be part of the national debate?

(NOTE: Here is some of the earlier discussion on the topic in our Current Affairs forum, while the blogs were down for maintenance.)

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