Where Is Justice on Death Row?

leathal injectionby J. Nicole Morgan

Last week in Oklahoma two death-row inmates were scheduled to be executed.   Clayton Lockett was scheduled first. The injection of drugs designed to kill him did not go according to plan. Locket lived for 40 painful minutes before ultimately dying of a heart attack.  Due to these unexpected complications with the drug, the second inmate scheduled to be executed that day was given a two-week stay.

Earlier this year, a similar story played out in Ohio's execution chamber.  Inmate Dennis McGuire thrashed and convulsed for 10 minutes before being injected with a new drug cocktail, which brought on this death. These states and others have been forced to find new drug combinations for executions, as European drug manufacturers have begun to implement bans on the sales of certain drugs so that they will not be used to kill people.

While these stories seem to clearly go against the US standard of not inflicting cruel and unusual punishment, and while ESA is opposed to capital punishment even for the guilty, what is also horrifying is the number of people on death row who are actually innocent.   A new study finds that 1 in 25 people sentenced to death in the US is likely innocent.  Since 1977, 138 death-row prisoners have been exonerated (found innocent) and released. Yet, if the statistic of 1 in 25 holds true it means that over the last three decades 1,320 human beings have been killed for crimes they did not commit.

The study makes its claims based on the fact that death-row inmates receive the benefit of continued review of their cases, something that is often denied to those who are sentenced to life in prison. While many likely die innocent, there are also many who spend years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

We must think carefully about the way we attempt to do justice in this country and its implications. The Winter 2014 PRISM featured an interview with Michelle Alexander, who talked about the way the US prison industry is creating and perpetuating a caste system in the United States.  You can learn more about the problems of justice associated with the US prison industry by searching the "prison" tag on both the PRISM and ESA websites.

A note about the death penalty as deterrent: States without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates.

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