Thursday, 21 December 2006

Old questions raised by botch of latest execution

Published - December, 19, 2006

Old questions raised by botch of latest execution

Gov. Jeb Bush did the right thing in suspending executions in Florida until the state's latest botched execution can be fully analyzed.

We'd prefer to see Florida eliminate the death penalty, but in the interim there should be some expectation that it will be handled competently.

There is a reason for the difference in the methods used by murderers, and those used by the state, in taking lives.

Criminals respect no law or moral code; the state takes lives in a legally -- and hopefully morally -- sanctioned manner in the name of the people.

And it is increasingly accepted that executions should be conducted as humanely as it is possible to do in taking a life. That is why Florida uses lethal injection. It is not supposed to be about inflicting pain or "paying" the criminal back in similar coin -- it is supposed to be about the state carrying out a legal sentence that serves the needs of justice.

Yes, there are those who want it to be about payback, and would be happy for that to include pain. Their complaint is that the criminal showed no mercy, often committing murders in the most heinous manner imaginable.

We believe it is obvious why the state would follow a different path -- action taken within the law should be clearly distinguishable from criminality.

Indeed, throughout the centuries it has been states that blurred the distinction between criminality and "lawful" actions that have earned the greatest condemnation from lawful societies.

Other than war, state-sanctioned execution is the most serious act a government engages in, and should be treated as such. For one thing, it makes mistakes irretrievable, which puts a premium on handling it as competently -- and humanely -- as possible.

There's no question Angel Diaz deserved punishment. Those who say opponents of the death penalty are "soft" on criminals make a tired argument.

Criminals such as Diaz should spend the rest of their lives in prison, with no chance of parole; anyone calling that "coddling" has not done any serious jail time.

Initial reports say the needles that delivered the lethal dose of drugs to Diaz were pushed through the veins and into soft tissue, delaying absorption of the drugs and leading to the 34-minute duration of the execution.

In 2000, the state's electric chair malfunctioned several times, even causing one inmate to catch fire. That led to the use of lethal injection.

Bush has created an 11-member panel to study the latest problem, and Gov.-elect Charlie Crist said he'll honor a moratorium on executions until it reports.

It was appropriate action by both men.

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