Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lethal Injection Executions

On Monday, a death row inmate won a criminal appeal in the United States Supreme Court resulting in a stay of execution. Clarence Hill, a Florida death row inmate, was seeking to show the Court that legal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

The Supreme Court has taken up the issue of lethal injection in the past temporarily halting its use as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eigth Amendment. The Court reversed itself five years later. Florida is one of 38 states to allow the death penalty; all but one of those 38 states allow the use of death by lethal injection.

Hill claimed that the drug cocktail could fail, and he could be paralyzed by it but strapped to a gurney unable to speak. Hill, who is mentally retarded, also claimed that his execution should not be allowed because the state of Florida banned the execution of mentally retarded persons in 2002. The state protested the appeal on the basis that it was filed too late. The justices of the Supreme Court spent the majority of their time discussing late filing procedures. The justices voted 5-3 to take up the issue of lethal injection, but said nothing about the mentally retarded claim of Hill's appeal.

The federal government and the US military use lethal injection as the primary means of execution. In those executions, as in most across the United States, the method involves a three step process. Once securely strapped to a gurney, I-V's are inserted into the veins through which three agents are pumped into the blood stream. The first agent causes numbness (sodium pentothal). The second agent causes paralysis (bromide pancuronium). Finally, potassium chloride is inserted into the I-V which causes a fatal heart attack.

Hill was stapped to his death bed, and I-V's were already inserted to prepare for his execution when Justice Anthony Kennedy issued the stay.

Govenor Jeb Bush of Florida has issued a stay of all executions pending the Supreme Court's decisons. Around the country, some executions have been stayed, while others have proceeded.

Other methods of execution include the gas chamber, hanging, and a firing squad.