"Obese Ohio inmate's attempt to avoid execution as good a reason as any for us to consider other weighty issues involving death penalty," is the title of a Birmingham News editorial.
The story is the kind that makes you laugh, even though you know you shouldn't. To make a long story short: An Ohio inmate claims he is too fat to be executed.
Ronald Post, who is scheduled to be put to death Jan. 16, worries the gurney is no match for his 480-plus pounds. He worries his weight and related health issues will pose other problems in any attempt at lethal injection.
"There is a substantial risk," his lawyers wrote, "that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him, as well as an execution involving a torturous and lingering death."
The argument isn't as frivolous as it might sound. In 1994, a 400-pound inmate in Washington state was deemed too fat to hang; a judge agreed the risk of decapitation was too high. And weight has been an issue in lethal injections as well. In 2007, it took the state of Ohio two hours to get an IV started in an inmate who tipped the scales at 265 pounds.
But the story of Ronald Post also offers an opportunity to consider weighty questions that have nothing to do with the fitness of inmates facing the death penalty -- and everything to do with our fitness to carry out those sentences.
Is Alabama's legal system fit enough to ensure that everyone charged with a capital crime is represented ably and agressively at trial? Is it fit enough to be comfortable that people won't be falsely accused and convicted? Is it fit enough to assure that the death penalty will be applied uniformly and fairly?
Year in and year out in Alabama, more than 60 percent of murder victims are black. But 80 percent of those awaiting execution were convicted of crimes involving white victims, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery nonprofit that defends condemned prisoners. While only 6 percent of murders involve black defendants and white victims, the organization found, 60 percent of black prisoners on Alabama's Death Row were convicted of killing a white person.
The editorial notes that the paper supports repeal of capital punishment.
Earlier coverage of the Ohio case of Ronald Post begins at the link.