Why Hide Details of Lethal Injection?

lethal injectionBy Peter Galuszka

It has to be one of the creepiest bills ever considered by the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 1393, sponsored by Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax), would drop a veil of secrecy over how Virginia executes prisoners by lethal injection. Its backers, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, are pushing it against a backdrop of global politics and questions of morality.

Virginia is one of 32 states that allow capital punishment. Since 1982, it has so far killed 110 prisoners, either by lethal injection or in the electric chair.

The preferred method is lethal injection. In the process, a doomed prisoner is strapped in a gurney and is given a series of three shots. One is to anesthetize; another is to paralyze; and the third is to stop his or her heart from beating. In some states, one drug may be used. Usually, there are witnesses to the execution, including members of the news media.

But Saslaw wants to start hiding crucial aspects of the gruesome practice. His bill would make information about lethal drugs. Companies that make or compound them would be exempt under the state Freedom of Information Act.

There are persistent national shortages of drugs used in the death process. According to The New Yorker, the sole American manufacturer of sodium thiopental stopped making the key, killer drug in 2011. Death penalty states looked to European manufacturers, but the European Union, which crusades against capital punishment, forbids European drug companies to export it if it will be used in executions.

Harried U.S. prison officials started shopping around to their counterparts in other states as shortages spread to other drugs. The situation seemed dire enough for Virginia to consider dusting off the electric chair, which it also allows for executions.

For a while, Virginia did have a good supply of killer drugs but by 2014,it ran short or drugs went past their expiration dates. A solution is to use pharmacies to compound drugs for executions but it could expose the firms to lawsuits.

So, as is too often typical in Virginia, Saslaw & Company started pushing the rights of private companies over the public’s right to know. His bill has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Underscoring the horror of the drug drama is what happened last April in Oklahoma during the execution of convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett. He was injected with the three-drug cocktail, but 10 minutes into the process, he revived as stunned onlookers watched. He died after another half an hour.

There is considerable evidence that lethal injection is not a painless way to go. In fact, the issue may be back before the U.S. Supreme Court again about whether injections are an unconstitutional “cruel and unusual” punishment. Another issue is why facts around execution must be made confidential.

There are larger issues about the ethics of capital punishment. Virginia, after all, follows only Texas when it comes to legally-sanctioned killing. Virginia does not have an unusually high crime rate (ranking No. 34 in violent crimes  per 100,000 population according to 2006 U.S. Census statistics). So why is it so intent on keeping capital punishment and hiding it?


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15 responses to “Why Hide Details of Lethal Injection?

  1. Pingback: All Opinions Are Local: Hiding the details of lethal injection | Local National News

  2. Maybe we should call this the “see no evil” solution – pun intended!

    In one respect, one might acknowledge that in the age of the internet and 24-hr news that the nasty business of figuring out how best to kill someone might just be TMI – too much info for people’s own good especially if the anti-death-penalty activists get involved in it.

    I think people should be alarmed… we see more and more of this – for example efforts to prevent the govt from even compiling information about sea level rise.

    at some point – someone sentenced to death is going to sue the state and demand to know what they are going to kill him with… mark my words – and they will argue whether or not he has “standing”.

  3. How about a little discussion of Lockett’s victim Stephanie Neiman. He buried her alive. Sorry I cannot generate any empathy for Lockett.



    • the thing is – there are animals in this world .. when you are that way – the death penalty is not a real deterrent – it just provides the rest of us with a sense of retribution.

      and I’d agree – there’s a certain disgusting aspect to worrying about how someone like this dies – when he acted as a savage towards his victim.

      I don’t think the death penalty is a deterrent to people like him, though – no matter how he is killed…. homicidal maniacs don’t have morals.. they don’t care about life. They don’t care about people or people’s suffering.

      the rest of us are so horrified by this that we only have a visceral response…
      and we do have to be careful that we don’t end up being like they are – even for people like themselves.

      what we do to ruthless killers – sort of defines us also – in some ways and that drives the anti- folks.

      there are no easy answers.. as much as we’d like to have them

      • I don’t know how much the death penalty serves as a deterrent, but I have read where victims were taken over state lines and killed or dumped already dead to avoid a death penalty state. When horrific crimes are committed, there is a place for retribution. It turns my stomach to think about those antis who worry more about the ruthless killer than what happened to the Stephanie Neimans. And they do worry more about the killers. After all, it’s society’s fault.

        I do support a thorough and open review of any DNA evidence in all capital murder cases. And the prosecutor needs to make all exculpatory evidence available to the defense at pain of a felony.

        Not every murder deserves the death penalty, but there is a place for it in society. Clayton Lockett got what he deserved.

        • there are different kinds of murders. When I speak of homicidal killers, I’m speaking of animals who really don’t care about much of anything least of all
          their victims. I’m speaking of people like mass killers, serial killers, and folks like Jeffrey Dahmer .. , the mom who kills her kids, – as opposed to murders that are crimes of passion and murders committed during criminal acts – robbing stores or illegal drug gang killings, etc.

          I don’t think the former of the above groups are affected by death penalty laws as much as the lower groups are.

          I also point out that more than a few these days – will go “postal” and then after they are done – kill themselves. clearly those folks are not affected by the death penalty.. at least as a deterrent.

          I’m still not understanding why the US has so many more murderers than other countries.. .. that’s troubling – and so many more people in prison than other countries – that’s also troubling and finally people who are convicted and executed that are later found to be innocent.

          How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced To Death?

          At least 4 percent of all people who receive the death penalty are innocent, if a new study is right.


          so in our zeal to exact retribution against murderers – we also kill innocents.

          that should disturb a lot of us… at least as much as the method of execution … in my view.

          on the whole – on a lot of issues – I get frustrated with black and white, all or nothing perspectives that are intolerant of the real, much muddier and problematic world.

          it seems that many of us just cannot countenance the shades of grey the real world presents us with.. at times. We see those shades of grey as undeserved escape hatches for the guilty.

        • Revenge is stupid and immoral. It was stupid and immoral when I beat up that kid in sixth grade for making fun of me. It was stupid and immoral when we visited death and destruction upon Afghanistan and Iraq for the actions of a baker’s dozen of Saudis. And it’s stupid and immoral when the state uses the power all of us give it to carry out a revenge killing.

          It turns my stomach to think people would consign another human being to death – especially a cruel and unusual death – via the state just to satsify the primal screaming of their amygdala.

        • ‘Deterrence’ has been a mainstay of the argument that death penalty devotees make, for several decades now.

          Personally, I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases: I don’t trust any human institution to be sufficiently clairvoyant not to make a mistake.

  4. I’m with Kozinski: LA Times said: “Days before an Arizona murderer gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes and died nearly two hours after his execution began, a conservative federal appeals judge called for replacing lethal injection with firing squads, saying the public must acknowledge that executions are “brutal, savage events.”
    “Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moments,” U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in a dissent in the Arizona death penalty case of Joseph Rudolph Wood III.

    “But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.””

    Smart guy, Kozinski. Bullets are cheap, we don’t have to abase ourselves to European manufacturers to get them, and if people get squeamed out, we can stop doing executions.

  5. “Thou shalt not kill”

    Seems pretty straight forward to me.

    Yes, the murderer broke that commandment. However, the commandment does not say, “Thou shalt not kill unless you are killing someone who has killed.”

    As for mistakes – they happen a lot. Search on The Innocence Project.

    Beyond that – money may not keep you out of jail but it can sure keep you off the gurney.

    • well.. violent criminals – people who are demonstrated to be wanton killers or for that matter show no regard for inflicting violence on others – do not belong roaming free in society where it’s pretty much taken that they’ll repeat.

      but putting a bunch of petty street crime youngers in jail with the craven killers is about as dumb as you can get – and yet we seem to do it.

      I don’t really know what we should do with craven killers… but I lean towards not killing them because there is no real way to do it without making us similar to them in some ways – we just choose a guy to do it without thinking about what kind of guy could stand there and kill another human being whom he does not know and has no personal relationship with. It’s a bit creepy to me…

      having said that – there are few of us – no matter how “liberal” the ignorati on the right “thinks” (and I use that word advisedly) – that would not hesitate to kill an attacker who was clearly intent on killing you or members of your family or other close folks.

      I wonder if we changed the way we killed the killers was done like we do jurors where citizens could be called up to be part of the execution team and you had to do it or be found in contempt and face your own trial?

      • By the time society is strapping a murderer onto a gurney he or she no longer represents a present danger. Lethal injection is not self-defense. It is societally sanctioned murder – pure and simple. And since due process is (correctly) sacrosanct – putting a murderer to death costs more than putting that murderer in prison for the rest of his or her life.

        Capital punishment does not provide a deterrent, mistakes are made and innocent people are sent to death row and the process of capital punishment costs more than life imprisonment.

        I guess people feel better (at a distance) when murders are put t death. However, as LarryG says, I wonder how many people would be willing to twist the knob and start the poison flowing. Sure as hell I wouldn’t do that.

  6. I tend to agree with Larry in that most people will find a person or a crime in which the former would be willing to see the latter killed and the killing sanctioned. Once one agrees that it would have been better for humanity had someone assassinated Hitler in 1933 or killed him in WWI, it’s only a matter of where we draw our lines.

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