Death Penalty in US Not Dead Yet, But in Decline – Consortiumnews

Elected officials are not having a collective epiphany about capital punishment, writes John Kiriakou. But for other reasons executions are still going down. 

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

Will 2019 be the year that the death penalty is finally abolished?  The answer is no. But states, increasingly, are either revoking it, initiating moratoria or just not executing people. This isn’t necessarily because elected officials around the country have had an epiphany; it’s for myriad reasons.   

First, the American public is finally coming to realize that innocent people have been—and continue to be—sentenced to death.  Since 1973, 156 people on death row have been found to be innocent and have been released, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  One wrongful execution is bad enough.  But 156 innocent people could have been killed if not for the attorneys and activists who took up their cases and proved that they had been wronged.  That, in and of itself, ought to be enough to abolish the death penalty.  What governor, warden, or judge wants the blood of innocents on his hands?

Ivan Navarro’s “Death Row” installation, 2006. (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on flickr)

Ivan Navarro’s “Death Row” installation, 2006, Venice Biennale. (Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on flickr)

Second, it is increasingly difficult for states to acquire the drugs necessary to perform a lethal injection execution. All 31 states that have a death penalty on the books use lethal injection as a method of execution. Several states still have the option of executing a prisoner in the electric chair; by hanging; and in the case of Oklahoma and Utah, by firing squad.  But lethal injection is increasingly seen as cruel and unusual punishment. 

A lethal injection execution uses three different drugs, all of which come with complications. The prisoner is first given a sedative.  But sedatives work on different ways on different people, and the level of sedation may not be very deep.  Also, some people metabolize sedatives quickly and thus may be coming out of the sedation when other drugs are administered.  Following the sedative, the prisoner is given an injection of muscle relaxants.  This is controversial because muscle relaxants…

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