Saturday, April 4, 2009


Now, this is a subject I've been watching unfold for quite some time.

In various suits filed on behalf of death row inmates in various states the defense teams sometimes file motions to compel the state to reveal the names of prison personnel who actually carry out the death penalty on behalf of the citizenry. This type of motion is vigorously opposed by the state with different but predictable reasons as to why the public identification of these people is not a good idea. Universally the argument is that the personnel would be put in a dangerous and unsafe position if their identity were revealed. Does the defense not have a right to know the composition of the lethal injection team, i.e. their qualifications and training that render them capable of carrying out this medical procedure that will result in the death of a person? In light of past botched executions this is most certainly important and discoverable information. In light of the Hippocratic Oath no medical doctors will participate leaving only non-medical personnel to carry out this procedure.

The article I've linked states that the members of the lethal injection team are strictly volunteers and are not forced to take on this responsibility. I'm just observing the moral conundrum in which these men and/or women find themselves when there is a threat of their actual identity being exposed. We know the identity of the convicted. Why can't the convicted know the identity of those by whose hands they die? If the members of the team all volunteer one would have to assume that they believe in the validity of the death penalty since they are personally carrying out the order on behalf of the state. If they are proponents of this system, then what is it about what they are doing that they don't want the public to know?

Why is evil always hidden? What is it about the nature of evil that when exposed to light, it cowers? When the possibility that the names of the lethal injection team would become public, even if only to the judge and defense, the entire team resigned. Perhaps the members were seriously fearful of their individual safety, but perhaps shouldn't they also just as seriously ponder the roles they were being asked by the state to pl

I wonder what would happen if the prosecuting attorney and the jury in each death penalty case were to comprise the lethal injection team. Do you think these men and women would volunteer to personally carry out the death sentences they themselves had rendered? Or do you think the odds of sentencing someone to death increase in proportion to the distance kept from being the actual instruments of carrying out that sentence?

Perhaps if we want others to stay out of the business of killing then we should commit to staying out of that same business ourselves and we should refuse to play any supporting role in that regard.


Luke Whyte said...

"do you think the odds of sentencing someone to death increase in proportion to the distance kept from being the actual instruments of carrying out that sentence?"

Interesting question.

I certainly think this rings true in the realm of military decisions: Gone are the days when supporting a declaration of war meant your children would be on the front lines.

Today, the decision to invade a nation results from debates that seem almost philosophical in nature, dangerously disassociated from the reality of their outcome.

Thanks for posting.

I will be interviewing Sen. Jim Webb's press secretary in regards to Webb's bill to "overhaul the criminal justice system" on Monday morning.

I am trying to arrange a sort of 'open source' question system.

I've been following your twitter posts and would be interested in seeing if there is anything you'd like to see Webb answer.

If you've got questions for him, send them my way and I'll field them to him.

We'll be posting a whole report on Webb's bill at the magazine I edit:

All the best,
Luke Whyte.

Lorraine S. said...

Luke, I'm very sad to say that I just now read your comment thinking that no one would ever read what I had to say or follow my posts. I guess I'm too late to ask Jim Webb anything, but I have been following what he is doing regarding prison reform.

The most important fact is that the justice system is this country is anything but just. The State's deck is stacked against the defendants, prosecutors withhold evidence because in their estimation conviction is the only goal. Truth means nothing. In fact, it is rather something to be avoided at all costs.

This is an untenable situation and one that is producing results that none of us desire.

Yes, I do think, as you said, "the odds of sentencing someone to death increase in proportion to the distance kept from being the actual instruments of carrying out that sentence".

I think this is why Jesus said "he who is without sin cast the first stone". That made it personal. One on one. And, of course, no one can do that, because none of us, not one of us, has the moral upper hand over anyone else.

Prison isn't working. It never has worked, and it never will work. It makes terrible situations worse, and it further alienates an entire group of people that are already marginalized.

This must change.