Today's Providence Journal publishes the OpEd, "Botched executions undermine death penalty," by Austin Sarat. He teaches at Amherst College and is the author of several books on capital punishment. His latest book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty, will be published by Stanford University Press.
Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty
Forthcoming: Available in May
Buy this book
This month’s execution of Dennis McGuire made headlines, and rightly so. The start of his execution was followed by a sudden snort and more than 10 minutes of irregular breathing and gasping. It took Ohio almost 25 minutes to end McGuire’s life. Newspapers labeled McGuire’s a “slow execution” and a “horrific death.” His lawyer said, “The people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names.” McGuire, a brutal killer, seemed to become, at least momentarily, an object of pity.
His execution occurred at a time when abolitionists have increasingly turned their attention away from the fate of the people like McGuire, whose guilt in the 1989 murder of pregnant 22-year-old Joy Stewart seems beyond doubt, to focus on those mistakenly and unjustly condemned to die. Doing so, they have had considerable success in changing attitudes toward America’s death penalty.
In this climate, should we care about what happened to Dennis McQuire? Why not just attribute the problems in his execution to Ohio’s use of untested lethal injection drugs? After all, the European Union barred German and Danish drug makers from selling sodium thiopental, an anesthetic commonly used in lethal injections, to U.S. prisons in December 2011, but this pharmaceutical problem could be temporary. Why not treat McGuire’s execution as a freak accident, rather than a symptom of a deeper problem in the death penalty system?
Earlier coverage of the Ohio botch begins at the link.