Death Penalty Walking

On Monday, January 7, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments that will determine the future of lethal injection in the United States. The article below, written by David Von Drehle in the recent issue of TIME Magazine, offers an analysis of where things stand today.

Thursday, Jan. 03, 2008
Death Penalty Walking
By David Von Drehle

On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a pair of Kentucky lawsuits challenging the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions. The gist of the cases is that the drug combination is unnecessarily complicated, using three chemicals when one would do, and that when this procedure is administered by undertrained prison officials, there’s an unconstitutional risk that something will go wrong. Instead of going to a quiet death, an inmate could experience terrifying paralysis followed by excruciating pain.
In a perfect world, perhaps, the government wouldn’t wait 30 years and several hundred executions to determine whether an execution method makes sense. But the world of capital punishment has never been that sort of place. This weighty moral issue, expressive of some of our society’s deeply held values, involves a lot of winging it. In 1990, for instance, a sponge used in the headpiece of Florida’s electric chair wore out. There’s no factory or parts catalog for execution devices, so the prison sent a guy to pick up a sponge at the store. Problem was, he bought a synthetic sponge instead of a genuine sea sponge, and when Jesse Tafero was strapped in, his head caught fire. Florida officials diagnosed the problem afterward by testing a similar sponge in a toaster.

To read the entire article:,9171,1699855,00.html