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September 17, 2014

Editorial: Free market vs. death penalty

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Posted: Friday, July 25, 2014 7:00 am

It’s been a tough year for states that employ the death penalty. An episode in Arizona Wednesday just made it worse.

The state of Arizona’s execution by lethal injection of a convicted murderer lasted almost two hours Wednesday; a typical execution lasts 15 minutes or less. Witnesses at Wednesday’s execution of Joseph R. Wood III noted the man gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes before he died.

“I’ve witnessed a number of executions before and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Dale Baich, one of Wood’s attorneys, told The Washington Post. “Nor has an execution that I observed taken this long.”

Wednesday’s scene was reminiscent of an April execution in Oklahoma. Murderer Clayton Lockett’s execution by lethal injection lasted almost an hour. One eyewitness described the scene 15 minutes after the execution drugs were administered: “The inmate’s body starts writhing and bucking and it looks like he’s trying to get up. Both arms are strapped down and several straps secure his body to the gurney. He utters another unintelligible statement.”

Arizona, Oklahoma and other states that employ lethal injection (including Alabama) face a similar challenge. The pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the drugs used by states in executions don’t like seeing their products used this way. The drug manufacturers concluded that an association with capital punishment makes for very bad publicity. So, they are taking the drugs off the market.

Faced with a shortage of standard lethal injection drugs, states began experimenting in recent months, trying different combinations of drugs they can secure. This is also why Alabama and other states have suddenly made the specific types of drugs they use a state secret.

As this space noted previously, states that persist in capital punishment find themselves in conflict with the free market, an ironic twist given how many of these state’s politicians declare their faithful allegiance to the marketplace. Drugmakers don’t want their products employed to take a life, even one of a convicted killer. Some states persist in executions in the face of setbacks, including questions about the guilt of some death row inmates and the uneven application of this ultimate punishment.

We long for the day when these states end this cruel practice.

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