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Recent Alabama execution dashes notion of painless lethal injection – And Twitter responses

Fairfax, Northern Virginia, criminal lawyer on recent Alabama execution

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Ronald Bert Smith, Jr.’s Alabama execution — discussed separately by me today — is an example of the fallacy that lethal injection can be assured to be painless. Alabama news reporter Kent Faulk witnessed the execution, and describes the following:

– “During 13 minutes of the execution, from about 10:34 to 10:47, Smith appeared to be struggling for breath and heaved and coughed and clenched his left fist after apparently being administered the first drug in the three-drug combination. At times his left eye also appeared to be slightly open.”

– “Smith continued to heave, gasp and cough after the first test was performed at 10:37 p.m. and again at 10:47 p.m.. After the second one, Smith’s right arm and hand moved.”

– “At one point while their client was struggling, one of [Smith’s] attorneys said out loud that he and another attorney had warned prison officials that a contingency plan was needed if an inmate struggled like that.”

My Twitter comment on this matter led to the first time any of my Twitter posts received more than a few responses. I tweeted very early the morning on December 9: “Is lethal injection painless? Ronald Bert Smith, Jr., heaved & coughed for 13 of 30 minutes of his own execution.” I linked to the Washington Post article on the matter.

Several hours later, Twitter lit up with a slew of opposition and other responses to my Twitter posting, plus retweets and likes for my posting and others’ replies. As of the writing of this blog entry, the great majority of written Twitter responses — apparently from a chain reaction (if not organized effort) of similarly-minded people — nixed the notion that execution should be as painless as possible, underlined that Smith did not care if his victim suffered pain, refocused attention on Smith’s victim, and/or attacked my concern about Smith. A minority of responses either opposed the death penalty or at least said that the pain involved with the execution method cannot be ignored.  The Twitter postings supporting Smith’s execution stand in contrast to his own jury that voted 7-5 for life imprisonment instead of execution.

Thankfully, we do have the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, countering those advocating the retribution of a painful execution. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not yet decided that the Eighth Amendment prohibits capital punishment, even though the late Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall insisted as much, and former Justice John Paul Stevens later came aboard.

I am delighted that I have witnessed a progression from my feeling dread in law school over the fast pace of death sentences and executions in the United States, to abolition and moratorium of the death penalty in many states, to only a minority of Americans now supporting capital punishment.

Abolish capital punishment worldwide.