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Vol. 78/No. 5      February 10, 2014

26-minute-long Ohio execution
fuels opposition to death penalty
(front page)
“He began struggling. His body strained against the restraints around his body, and he repeatedly gasped for air, making snorting and choking sounds,” Alan Johnson, a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch, wrote Jan. 17, describing the execution of Dennis McGuire by the state of Ohio the day before in a 26-minute-long ordeal utilizing a new and untested drug “cocktail.”

The family of McGuire, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1989, filed a lawsuit in federal court Jan. 24 seeking to bar Ohio’s death “cocktail” as unconstitutional. “I can’t think of any other way to describe it than torture,” McGuire’s daughter Amber, who witnessed the execution, said in a statement.

Opposition to the death penalty, which is on the books in 32 states, is widespread and growing. Six states outlawed the practice over the last six years.

According to a Gallup poll, the proportion of people in the U.S. who oppose use of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder has risen from 16 percent in the mid-1990s to 35 percent today. One factor has been a growing number of frame-up cases in which DNA evidence has exonerated those sentenced to death. A recent report by the Death Penalty Information Center documents 143 death penalty convictions overturned in 26 states.

Facing growing opposition, pharmaceutical companies in both Europe and the U.S. stopped selling the three-drug mix used for injections last year. State officials have since been searching for alternative killing techniques.

The history of death penalty methods in the U.S. is as twisted as the moral values of the capitalist rulers who wield it as a weapon of terror against working people.

The electric chair, which became the most common technique after 1890, was promoted by Thomas Edison as part of the “war of currents” over which patented electrical current systems would dominate the market — Edison’s direct current (DC) or George Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC).

Edison employee Harold Brown convinced New York State Prison authorities to adopt electrocution as a “humane” alternative to hanging and to use Westinghouse’s AC system. Brown tried to get them to call it “The Westinghouse Chair,” convinced it would not work properly and embarrass his rival.

William Kemmler, the first person executed by the new device, was not killed by the initial jolts and caught fire after the current was ramped up.

In later decades, the “chair” became the most common method in the East, while the gas chamber was the choice in the West. In the 1980s the supposedly more “humane” method of lethal injection became the dominant technique.

The attempt by state officials in Ohio to cobble together a new chemical blend, leading to McGuire’s torturous death, has spurred an open debate on alternative methods among proponents of the death penalty, a ghastly discussion not likely to win much public traction or support.

On Jan. 17 state Rep. Rick Brattin introduced a bill in the Missouri legislature to add the firing squad to the menu. “A lot of folks may picture the 1850s and everyone lining up to shoot,” Brattin said, “but the reality is that people suffer with every type of death.”

“One of the reasons I chose firing squad as opposed to any other form of execution is because frankly it’s one of the cheapest,” Wyoming state Sen. Bruce Burns said when he introduced a similar bill there in January.

The last execution by firing squad took place in Utah in 2013, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was gunned down. “It has been done with absolute dignity and reverence for human life,” Utah Department of Corrections Director Thomas Patterson told reporters.

“It was anti-climactic,” one participant in Utah’s previous firing squad execution told CNN. “I’ve shot squirrels I’ve felt worse about.”

According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 3,261 people are on death row in the U.S., which executed the fifth largest number of people in 2012, after China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder has until Jan. 31 to announce whether he will seek the federal death sentence against Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the accused Boston Marathon bomber.
Related articles:
Iowa cop Taser use was ‘100% police brutality’
Two shocked to death by officers in state last year
Speakout protests death of woman in Brooklyn jail
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