The U.S. government carried out the first federal execution in 17 years July 14, fast tracking the killing of Daniel Lee, in Terre Haute, Indiana. The fact that he was strapped on a gurney with an IV needle in his arm for four hours awaiting court decisions on his fate underlined the cruelty of the state’s determination to put him to death. His lawyers were not told of his death until after the execution.
By a 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled shortly after 2 a.m. that they wouldn’t consider the objections because they were too “last-minute.” The court also overrode arguments that the use of the barbiturate pentobarbital would cause “extreme pain and needless suffering” akin to drowning. Observers at the execution reported Lee’s breathing did become labored, and after his chest stopped moving his lips turned blue and his fingers ashy.
The execution was opposed by Earlene Peterson, the 81-year-old mother of one of Lee’s victims, as well as her daughter and granddaughter. They asked for a postponement, saying they wanted to attend, but feared traveling to Indiana because of the coronavirus outbreak. They planned to use their attendance to speak out against the death penalty.
“Just 10 minutes passed between the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revoking the last outstanding objection stopping Lee’s execution, in an order at 7:36 a.m., and the curtain in the execution chamber being pulled back at 7:46 a.m. to reveal Lee strapped to a gurney,” Reuters reported.
Public support for this barbaric practice has been declining for years among working people. Still the death penalty has been defended as a federal law by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. While President Donald Trump calls for extending its use, it was President Bill Clinton who expanded the number of crimes to which it applies, some 60 additional offenses.
The Justice Department has scheduled two more executions for later this next week.
Reflecting the shift against this barbarity, 32 states have abolished the death penalty or haven’t carried out an execution in over a decade. An October 2019 national poll found respondents favored life imprisonment for capital offenses over execution by 60% to 34%.
“Capital punishment is a brutal weapon of terror in the hands of the capitalist rulers, ultimately used to intimidate the working class and its vanguard fighters,” Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for president, said July 14. “The Socialist Workers Party fights for its complete abolition.”