The Death Penalty: Still “Freakish” After all These Years

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In a 1972 opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the death penalty should not “be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.” Thirty five years later his words still resonate.

Take lethal injection.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates how haphazardly the deadly cocktail is administered than yesterday’s revelation in Tennessee. Turns out that the state, which has 102 prisoners on death row, doesn’t have written guidelines listing the appropriate dosage amounts of the three chemicals used during executions. Instead, such details have been passed from prison guard to prison guard, through “oral tradition.” Oral tradition? Are we suddenly talking about handing down the secret family recipe for apple pie? This is insane.

Tennessee’s governor, Phil Bresdesen (a Dem) says he remains a steadfast “supporter of the death penalty”, but admits that this is a “huge failing.” And with four men scheduled to die within the next 90 days he has issued a moratorium on capital punishment, at least until May.

Tennessee’s moratorium comes after similar developments in Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, California, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota and North Carolina.

Which state will be next?

— Celia Perry

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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