Editorial — Two wrongs don’t make a right

Several news reports last week detailed the excruciating death — at the hands of the state of Ohio — of convicted murderer Dennis McGuire.

Those reports said his execution was accomplished, if you can apply such a word to a killing, by “lethal injection using a new combination of drugs.”

Only those drugs didn’t quite work as they were supposed to; it wasn’t the “accomplishment” that Ohio officials had sought.

News reports on CNN, NBC and other sites said that McGuire’s death, which was witnessed by his children and daughter-in-law, was horrific.

According to a television reporter named Sheila Gray, who witnessed this atrocity, McGuire “appeared to gasp and convulse for roughly ten minutes before he finally died.”

The execution had generated more controversy than usual because Ohio, CNN said, had been forced to find a new drug protocol after European-based manufacturers “banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions.”

Ohio used drugs called midazolam, a sedative, and the painkiller hydromorphone.

Prior to the execution, McGuire’s attorneys argued that their client “would suffocate to death in agony and terror.”

But “the state disagrees,” wrote Elisabeth A. Semel, professor of law and director of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law. “The truth is that no one knows exactly how McGuire will die, how long it will take or what he will experience in the process.”

Exactly. Isn’t that one of the reasons so many governors have recently said “no” to capital punishment? Wasn’t that part of the controversy in Kentucky when the state ran out of the drugs it used to kill inmates on death row?

This story out of Ohio probably won’t sway the opinions of those who still believe, for some reason, that the death penalty is good for society or at least good for the legal system.

They still believe the “if you don’t kill them, they’ll never learn” notion of justice, when study after study has shown that the death penalty does not — in any way — serve as a deterrent to violent crime.

Proponents of state-sanctioned killing will make note of the horrible murder that Dennis McGuire committed — the 1994 rape and murder of a 22-year-old woman who was seven months pregnant. As repugnant as that crime is, last week’s killing did nothing to bring the victim back.

McGuire was a murderer who should have spent the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Period. McGuire’s murder of a young woman, and the subsequent killing of McGuire by the state, were both wrong. Two “wrongs” still don’t make a “right” any more than two lies make a truth.

In December of 2011 an American Bar Association panel recommended that Kentucky temporarily suspend its use of the death penalty until new safeguards can be developed to prevent the execution of the innocent.

The report was exhaustive; it contained 520 pages. And it said that the justice system in Kentucky “does not sufficiently protect the innocent, convict the guilty and ensure the fair and efficient enforcement of criminal laws.” It said the capital punishment system in this state “remains deeply flawed.” And it noted that at least 10 of the 78 people sentenced to death in the state since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976 were represented by attorneys who were subsequently disbarred.

But we should also note that the wind of change is blowing in the right direction when it comes to capital punishment. Maryland repealed its death penalty law in March last year; Connecticut took the same action the year before. Yet capital punishment remains legal in 32 states and there are currently about 3,108 inmates awaiting execution.

Here’s another barbaric statistic: Japan is the only industrial democracy besides the United States that still uses the death penalty. The only one. That ought to tell us something.

As should this: In states where there is a law calling for, in the case of a capital crime, life in prison without the chance of parole, poll after poll has shown that the public prefers that option over state-sanctioned executions.

The Catholic Church, its popes and its bishops have been consistent in their concern for the dignity of all human life, from conception to “natural” death. And they have consistently opposed the use of the death penalty unless there is no other way to protect society from a violent killer.

But there is another way with the “life without the possibility of parole” option. And you’d think we would have all learned that by now.

Glenn Rutherford
Record Editor

2 Comments

  • Beverly McAuliffe says:

    What/Who can end the death penalty in Kentucky? Is there someone out there who can and will champion this effort?

    • The Record says:

      Father Patrick Delahanty, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky and the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty are focusing a great deal of energy on this issue.

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