OpinionEditorial
Editorial

Executions should not be run by trial and error

OpinionEditorials
States using lethal injections in executions should declare a moratorium until the process can be reviewed
As long as states execute murderers, they must do so within the limits of the Constitution. And they're not

For the third time this year, state executioners administering a lethal injection to a condemned man have botched it. This time it happened in Arizona, where it took nearly two hours Wednesday to kill convicted murderer Joseph Wood using the same two-drug protocol involved in Ohio's slow, torturous execution of Dennis McGuire in January. The other mis-execution occurred in Oklahoma, where Clayton Lockett writhed and groaned on a gurney before the bungled procedure was finally aborted; he later died of a heart attack.

The Times' opposition to the death penalty has been clear: Capital punishment is inconsistently applied, subject to manipulation and error, morally wrong and of dubious value in deterring crime. What's more, it is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out without violating the condemned's constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. As we've argued before, as long as states continue to execute murderers, they must do so within the limits of the Constitution.

But they're not. With manufacturers balking at selling drugs for executions, states have been scrambling to find alternatives, coming up with new lethal cocktails made with drugs customized by compounding pharmacies. Not only are some of these cocktails proving ineffective, but states have been shielding their sources and the specific makeup of the drugs from both the public and the condemned. Oklahoma has even sent corrections officers with money from petty cash to procure the drugs in a tawdry effort to blur the trail.

Wood, who was convicted of the 1989 murder of his girlfriend and her father, was among those who sought a court order requiring the state to reveal details of the execution protocol so he could determine whether it violated his constitutional rights. It turns out, he had reason to worry.

In fact, given the earlier McGuire execution, Arizona had cause to wonder whether it should use the Ohio protocol but forged ahead anyway. The state not only got its pound of flesh, it got two hours of watching a man — flawed and irredeemable as he might have been — slowly poisoned to death. It took so long to kill Wood that his lawyers had time to file an emergency appeal to have the execution halted; Wood died before a ruling was made.

There is no defense for this barbaric practice. It may be true, as Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said, that Wood's suffering did not compare to that of his victims or his victims' family. But that's not the point. Society must not stoop to torture or to other constitutionally impermissible methods of punishing criminals. Executions should not be run by trial and error. Death penalty protocols should not be kept secret. States using lethal injections should declare a moratorium until the process can be thoroughly reviewed.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
OpinionEditorials
  • No more Mr. News Guy -- L.A. anchor Kent Shocknek signs off
    No more Mr. News Guy -- L.A. anchor Kent Shocknek signs off

    Notice something missing from your TV news this week? It's Kent Shocknek, who spoke to The Times two days before signing off Friday, after 31 years in the anchor chair on two stations, KNBC and KCBS/KCAL. He so fits the role, he got anchor cameos in the movies. His tenure, one of the...

  • California's initiative process could become more enlightened under this new law
    California's initiative process could become more enlightened under this new law

    It turns out that a legislative hearing can be simultaneously enlightening and pointless. Take, for example, Monday's hearing in Sacramento on Proposition 46, the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot to increase the cap on medical malpractice damages, and Thursday's on Proposition 47, the...

  • No on Proposition 45
    No on Proposition 45

    Angered by rapidly rising premiums for automobile insurance, voters approved Proposition 103 in 1988 to give the state insurance commissioner the power to veto unreasonable rate hikes for auto policies. Now, after years of premium hikes in health insurance, voters have the chance to extend...

  • Why so many voters care so little about the midterm elections
    Why so many voters care so little about the midterm elections

    The looming midterm elections, which will decide whether the U.S. Senate is run by Democrats or Republicans, has been called "the Seinfeld election," because so much of the campaign seems to be about nothing.

  • Congress should fund fires for what they are -- disasters
    Congress should fund fires for what they are -- disasters

    Californians are all too familiar with the devastation forest fires bring. The state has already had more than 1,000 wildfires this year, and the worst of the fire season is just beginning. More than 350,000 acres of national forest have burned in Northern California so far in 2014. And each...

  • A silver lining from the Isla Vista tragedy: New power to take guns from the unstable
    A silver lining from the Isla Vista tragedy: New power to take guns from the unstable

    The pro-gun crowd will be foaming, but Gov. Jerry Brown today signed into law AB 1014, by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), that will let family members or police seek a court order to temporarily remove lawfully owned weapons from the home of someone deemed at risk of committing...

Comments
Loading