It is very nearly universally accepted in the United States and other modern countries that if a person violates the rights of others the violator loses some of his own rights. Most common among these forfeited right is the right to not be imprisoned or “the right to liberty”. No citizen can legally be imprisoned—that’s a crime called ‘kidnapping’—but we have no objections to convicted criminals being imprisoned by the government because that is part of the bargain—dare I say ‘social contract’—by which we live. Convicted criminals have fewer rights than do the law abiding, and almost no one has a problem with this.
This sense of reciprocity is deeply embedded in our society: if you violate people’s rights, the state will reciprocate and violate your rights. It would also seem that there is another sense deeply embedded in our society: proportionality.
In some societies they execute drug dealers, fine people a week’s wages for chewing gum, cut off the hands of petty thieves. We find those kinds of punishments horrifying, not necessarily for the act itself but for how ‘meager’ a crime should warrant so harsh a punishment. We expect in our society that the worse the crime the worse the punishment, and expect minor crimes to have only minor punishments.
While some would care to disagree, it is generally accepted that death is the harshest punishment of all, and certainly the most permanent. It is for this reason we reserve the death penalty for only the most heinous of criminals. Americans are typically an optimistic people, and we like to think that there is not a single person beyond redemption. Unfortunately, there seem to be a never ending stream of people determined to prove us wrong. Every so often someone comes out of the woodwork and commits criminal acts so deplorable, so inhumane, so unthinkable, that we cannot help but think: while his soul may yet find redemption in the eyes of God, we can never forgive, forget, nor redeem this person ourselves.
Besides, humans and the systems they build are flawed. Execution is the only means of ensuring that truly irredeemable criminals–people who are irreparable–never harm anyone ever again, to say nothing of the costs saved for the taxpayer (or at least, the potential costs saved if carrying out the death penalty hadn’t been made so artificially expensive by profiteering lawyers and people who hate the death penalty).
Personally, I would like to see the death penalty applied only in those cases where the criminal’s guilt is beyond any doubt, but alas the history of the US and the 20th century contains many questionable and indeed wrongful executions. While that is certainly regrettable, I do not for one moment think that it changes the fact that some criminals are worth killing. Among them are people like Charles Warner and Clayton Lockett.
Clayton Lockett, the man killed in a “botched execution”—though I must ask: how can an execution be botched if at the end of it the person who was meant to be dead is indeed dead?—is one such candidate who genuinely deserves death. His crime? Well, crimes: along with two other men, he broke into a house, tied up the owner and savagely battered him to a pulp. Then, two women entered the house, one—Stephanie Nieman—was only 19 years old and had only graduated high school the month before. Stephanie was forced to watch as the other woman was raped before Stephanie too was raped and hit in the face with a shotgun. Finally, they shot Stephanie twice. Still alive, they buried her in a shallow grave and left her to die. This happened in 1999 and Lockett was convicted in 2003. In my world, he would have been executed much sooner than 11 years after his conviction. But, better late than never.
Had the execution gone flawlessly, Lockett should have simply fallen asleep and then his heart would have stopped, almost like an overdose on sleeping pills. However, he instead had a massive heart attack and flailed about for a while as what was left of his brain function tried to cope with lack of oxygen and too much Carbon Dioxide. Prior to the toxin being administered to him, he was dosed intravenously with large amount of narcotic painkiller. On the whole then it is difficult to seriously suggest that Lockett had any meaningful level of consciousness or pain.
Famously, chickens will run around even after they’ve had their heads cut off. This is because the nerve that controls their muscles is below the neck and will take a few seconds or minutes to cease functioning, but will spasm uncontrollably in the meantime. The chicken, however, is already dead and has no sense of pain or awareness. So it was, I suspect, with the condemned man in this case. His mind was already gone and he was completely oblivious as his body vainly struggled to carry on living.
However…this was considered “cruel and unusual” enough to call off future executions until the technique can be refined. Which is a damned shame, because there was another execution scheduled for the very same day of someone even worse than Lockett.
Charles Warner is a man who is even worse than someone who would beat, rape, shoot, and bury alive a 19 year old girl. What crime could be so terrible? He raped a baby. Yes, you read that right, a man actually had forcible sex with an 11 month old girl, after which he thrashed the baby to death. Oh, and the man molested a 5 year old boy, habitually physically abused his girlfriend and children, and is an all around sub-human monster.
But…because we may not have the mixture of poisons exactly correct, because it might take a few extra minutes and might cause some flailing about, we will spare his life a little longer. Just why are we concerned with how exactly he dies?
I understand why people say things like “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “revenge won’t bring back the dead” or “two wrongs don’t make a right” and other, similar sentiments with regards to the death penalty, I really do. The death penalty does certainly seem vindictive at first glance. But let me put it this way: what do we do with rabid dogs? We kill them. Why? Not out of any spite or vengeance, even if they bit and infected a human being. We kill them because there’s no point in keeping them around and it will prevent them from harming anyone else. Would we lock up a rabid dog and dutifully feed it and humanely house it until it died of natural causes? No: we kill it. We kill it kindly of course, but we still end its life.
Am I equating human beings like Charles Warner to rabid dogs? No, I would not dare insult rabid dogs in such a manner. The dog is defective, but through no fault of its own, and killing it is almost an act of mercy. A “person” like Charles Warner committed a malicious act of pure evil. What kind of monster would mutilate a helpless, innocent baby purely to satisfy his own lusts? It is horrifying and disgusting.
And like we throw away a broken toy, someone like that deserves to be killed. I don’t want him to suffer, I’m not wrathful. I just want him to die, to go away forever. It should be quick, painless, unceremonious and unsentimental. Ideally, a nine-millimeter to the back of the head, a death so quick he wouldn’t even hear the gunshot.
It is a funny thing that we are willing to kill people but we cannot stomach the thought of killing them except in the most clinical and sterile of ways. Funnier still that we bend over backwards to humanely treat people who treated others so inhumanely. But I suppose we must make efforts to retain our humanity when dealing with those who have lost theirs, lest our own humanity slowly be ebbed away. Why go through the elaborate and bizarre ritual of injecting them with poison? Why has this awkward method of killing someone been foisted upon us? There exist so many means of killing people that are quick, humane, and effective, it seems a very odd thing to go to the effort of finding a suitable vein and injecting an expensive and complex cocktail of drugs into someone when a single pistol cartridge worth 50 cents would do fine.
Heck, I’m sure there would be a long line of people who would have no qualms at all with killing the convicted. They might even pay for the privilege.
On balance then, I cannot understand the morbid fascination with the death penalty. Actually, I should rephrase that: I cannot understand the sympathy people have for the monsters who land on death row. The death penalty need not be cruel or vengeful, but why must we make it so complicated?