Butler County Times Gazette
  • Neal Simon: Like a fish out of water

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  • Media reports this weekend, including from the New York Times and The Associated Press, shine new light on Arizona’s execution of killer Joseph R. Wood III on July 23. It took Wood nearly two hours to die, long enough that attorneys for the condemned man almost convinced a federal judge to halt the execution and order Arizona to revive Wood, who was convicted of killing his former girlfriend and her father in 1989.
    New details about Wood’s execution, which now has the dubious distinction of being the longest in American history, emerged from logs released by the Arizona Department of Corrections. According to state officials, Wood was given 15 times the standard dose of sedatives and painkillers during the one hour and 53 minute procedure. Witnesses recount Wood gasping more than 600 times before finally expiring. A journalist who witnessed the event likened Wood’s reaction during the execution to a fish out of water.
    Why does any of this matter? Because the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from inflicting “cruel and unusual punishment.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the Eighth Amendment applies to the states as well. Now, I realize that there will be no groundswell of outrage over a state government violating this pesky and annoying constitutional amendment. That type of hysteria is reserved for the Second Amendment. Still, if the Constitution prohibits something, we probably shouldn’t let our public bodies do it.
    Interestingly, the expanded details about the execution cut both ways, as far as trying to figure out whether Arizona violated Wood’s constitutional rights. The state has insisted since the day of the execution that Wood never felt any pain or discomfort, and now knowing the dosage of drugs that he received, it is very likely that they are correct. Arizona may not have tortured Wood. But the state has essentially admitted that Wood received “unusual” punishment. Wood was injected with 750 milligrams of Hydromorphone and 750 milligrams of Midazolam. The “usual” dosage is 50 milligrams of both. Case closed, as far as I am concerned.
    Liberals may occasionally be guilty of loving government too much, but I am not feeling any love for Arizona public officials after this botched execution.
    Although I appreciate effective republican government, the kind that is not a slave to its corporate benefactors, I don’t trust any government enough, state or federal, to support its power to execute people.
    There are many government programs that I’m guilty of liking.
    I do favor policies that promote advancement out of poverty, and initiatives that safeguard the middle class. These would include K-12 public education, student loans for college, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
    A believe in a strong, effective social safety net.
    Reasonable public health and safety measures that protect the environment, workers, the elderly and children seem within the scope of government responsibility.
    Page 2 of 2 - We need the police and the courts.
    Laws to protect investors, small and large, are a good idea, at least in my view.
    I like the idea of a national defense that deters attacks on the homeland and our allies.
    Governments building roads and running jails and prisons also has my support. Likewise, national and state parks. Who doesn’t like forest rangers?
    But before anyone can accuse me of being a big government-loving weenie, I’ll point out that there are plenty of things that the government does that I am not in favor of.
    At this point, it seems reasonable to call the NSA a vast criminal enterprise that at the very least skirts the U.S. Constitution on a daily basis.
    I believe we lock up too many people. If I was in charge, our prisons would be much less crowded. To its credit, the Obama Administration’s record is improving on this issue.
    Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed reforming federal sentencing guidelines for drug trafficking. According to the Justice Department, if the changes are adopted, they will impact nearly 70 percent of offenders, reducing average prison sentences by 11 months. The U.S. Sentencing Commission says Holder’s proposal would result in the Bureau of Prisons’ population falling by 6,500 inmates by the end of five years. That’s a good start, albeit a modest one.
    We give our federal government the power to make war and send our citizens off to kill and be killed. That’s a pretty awesome power, and unfortunately there have been cases where our nation’s leaders have abused their responsibility. Too often, they are not called to account.
    The previous federal administration misled the Congress and the American people about the national security threat posed by Iraq. The cost of these lies, in lives and treasure, was enormous.
    I would respectfully characterize politicians who voice furious and hysterical constitutional objections to Obamacare or tepid gun regulations but remain silent when the government abuses its war-making powers as inconsistent at best, hypocritical at worst.
    Without a doubt, a majority of Americans continue to support the death penalty for at least some cases of first-degree murder, although there’s evidence that the death penalty has lost a few points in the last decade. DNA has exposed wrongful convictions, some for inmates headed to the execution chamber. The fiasco in Arizona closely followed mishandled executions in Ohio and Oklahoma.
    God bless you if your faith and trust in government is still strong enough to support the death penalty. My faith is not.
    ——
    Neal Simon is the city editor of The Hornell (New York) Evening Tribune.

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