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Friday, February 7, 2014

Is The Death Penalty Dying A Slow Death?

(California Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons)

A shortage of drugs used for capital punishment is leading some states to consider bringing back the electric chair or the firing squad. (California Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons)

This week, the state of Louisiana delayed the execution of Christopher Sepulvado, who was convicted of killing his 6-year-old stepson more than two decades ago.

Sepulvado’s lawyers argued that the two drugs that Louisiana officials wanted to use to put Sepulvado to death would violate his eighth amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

There’s a shortage of drugs used for capital punishment, and it’s leading some states to consider bringing back the electric chair or the firing squad.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discusses this with Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center and Rick Brattin, a Missouri state representative who is sponsoring a bill to make the firing squad an alternative to lethal injection.

Interview Highlights

Richard Dieter on executions in the U.S.

“There’s been a 75 percent drop in death sentences since the 1990s. Really extraordinary numbers, a 60 percent drop in executions. The number of states with the death penalty has declined, death row has declined and even public support is at a 40-year low, so we’re certainly at a crossroads here with the death penalty here compared to where we were 15 years ago.”

“States are finding these drugs from compounding pharmacies. A lot of the legal debate about this is that states don’t want to reveal where they’re getting them from. They don’t want to name the compounding pharmacy, or the pharmacist who put the drugs together, or what company is testing the purity of these. And so the suits have to do with not saying lethal injection is unconstitutional, but rather that this secrecy deprives the defendant of elementary due process, and deprives the people of knowing what the state is doing.”

Dieter on bringing back old execution methods

“I think certainly it’s possible for some of these laws to get passed, but as I say, I don’t think they’re going to become our method of execution. States voluntarily got rid of those things. Utah was the state that used the firing squad, and they want to get as far away from that. Every time they used it, even for people who volunteered, it was a spectacle. The inmate got all the attention, and of course, it was a bloody way of killing people, and for people who had to witness that, including the victim’s families, you know, that doesn’t serve well. So I don’t think that’s where we’re going. But if a system, if a program, a government program, is having problems, we either mend it or we end it. I think it would be refreshing to have a review of: why are we doing it? Why are we picking 39 people out of the 14,000 murders that occur in a year and carrying of those 39, 82 percent of which are in the south? The country isn’t using the death penalty. We don’t need it. The worst crimes aren’t being punished with the death penalty.”

Rick Brattin on his bill to bring back the firing squad

“The reason why I have introduced this is was to have an alternative plan, just in case this is held up in a court appeal for a long period of time. That way, we, the state, would still carry out sentencing for these victims and their families.”

“It would be a voluntary list of law enforcement officers, and out of a five-man squad, four of the five would have a live round and one would have a blank round, so they could, you know, go home believing they had that blank round, at least that’s the way it’s viewed. I know a lot of people who say that is, you know, warping back to 1850, but, you know, executions are not fun, and, you know, we don’t have medical doctors administering this lethal injection and putting the needles in and anything like that. These are orderlies and less than qualified people a lot of the time. So these people sit here and suffer and die.”

Brattin on critics of the firing squad

“I believe it is a viable means of punishment. You know, a lot of these people who are against it don’t really research how these victims die. These people are dying the most humane death possible compared to their victims. You know, the people who are on death row aren’t the guys who were just robbing a bank and happened to misfire and kill somebody. These people did, you know, I mean, the most extreme, heinous things to an innocent human being, or multiple innocent human beings. So that’s where I come from, is that I believe the victims and their families want the rest to be put to these cases, and in this case, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Guests


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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