Sunday, April 16, 2017
It is Holy Saturday as I type this. And all hell has broken loose in Arkansas.
Let me state at the outset that I am somewhat conflicted about capital punishment. As a matter of law, I believe that capital punishment is one of the penalties that a society may legitimately impose upon conviction of the most heinous of offenses. I also would tend to agree that capital punishment, in and of itself, is probably not "cruel and unusual punishment" that is barred by the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. After all, capital punishment existed during the time of the framing of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers could have banned it if they had wanted to.
The 8 individuals pictured above were scheduled to be executed by the State of Arkansas. 7 of them were scheduled to be put to death over the next 11 days. "What's the rush?" one might ask. Because the state's supply of midazolam, the sedative used as part of the 3 injection regimen, expires on April 30th. In other words, it is not safe to use beyond that date.
If this were not sufficiently perverse, yesterday McKesson Medical- Surgical Inc. filed suit in state court seeking injunctive relief against the use of the 100 vials of vecromium bromide it sold to the State. It said that the State failed to disclose that the chemicals were to be used in executions. McKesson is the distributor of the drug. It said the manufacturer of the drug opposes its use in executions. The state court judge granted an injunction. I forgot to mention that this judge was also part of a protest rally against the scheduled executions thereby putting his impartiality to extreme question.
I also forgot to mention that while all of this was going on, US District Judge Kristine Baker held 4 days of hearings last week concerning whether the drug regimen proposed by Arkansas constituted "cruel and unusual punishment." Last night she issued a 100 page decision enjoining the executions which got filed this morning.
Oh and McKesson filed a "friend of the court" brief in Judge Baker's court reciting its objection to the use of vecromium bromide for this purpose. An employee of the Department of Corrections said it pretty much knew the McKesson employee that sold the State the vials in question was not authorized to sell it for use in executions. And when asked by reporters where the State got the chemicals it proposed to use, a spokesperson said they were "donated."
Donated? The hell she said. The State of Arkansas is accepting donated goods to execute people?
Look, I have no sympathy for these defendants. They were all convicted of the most heinous of crimes involving murder and sex offenses. They are not entitled to mercy as most of us define it.
But even the worst among us-and these guys amply qualify-have constitutional rights. And this fiasco proves that Arkansas is not capable of carrying out the maximum punishment in a dignified and orderly fashion consistent with the rule of law. If we must execute prisoners it cannot be done in a circus atmosphere with chemicals ostensibly obtained by ruse. We shouldn't execute people in an assembly line fashion because the expiration date of one of the drugs is coming up. And why is this latter consideration an issue? Because states that use lethal injection to administer capital punishment are finding it hard to obtain these drugs as many companies-like McKesson who may have gotten snookered here-refuse to allow their products to be used for this purpose. This is ridiculous and macabre.
And, as has been proven time and again, it would be infinitely cheaper to confine them for life than to pay the cost of the seemingly infinite rounds of appeals available to death row litigants in both the State and Federal system. But what about closure for the victims? Good point. I can't imagine what it must be like to have a loved one taken from you under such violent and horrible circumstances. But again, like it or not, these inmates have rights. What about the victims you may ask? What about their rights? I am sympathetic. Really I am. What happened to the victims in these cases was beyond evil. But in the criminal justice system you have to dot every "i" and cross every "t." That's the way it is.
I say lock 'em up and throw away the key. Case closed. The very definition of closure. You say you don't want to use your tax dollars for their care and feeding for life? Fine. If you think it is a better use of your tax dollars to pay attorneys fees and courts costs for the average 20 years these appeals ten to take for an uncertain end, then we can continue on our current path.
Executions are no longer practical from a strictly utilitarian and economic perspective.
This is not about mercy for these guys. This is about the rule of law.
And swift and sure punishment. Which the families of the victims, and the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the criminal justice system, deserve.
Sunday, April 02, 2017
I was having lunch the other day with my preacher friend. We were talking about the recent abdication of the Arkansas Legislature on their earlier cretinous position to allow fans to pack guns at sporting events. They changed their-and I use this word in its most limited sense-minds not in the face of data, the objections of college presidents or moral suasion. No. They bowed to a power mightier than their masters at the NRA.
The Southeastern Conference.
Long story short. The Ledge passed a bill allowing folks with concealed carry permits and additional training to pack heat pretty much wherever they saw fit. Including college sporting events.
Now, unlike evidently the majority of the Senators who voted for this insanity, I attend a lot of ball games. I have coached Little League and Babe Ruth baseball. I hear things being said around me inn the stands about the officials and the coaches. Most of it is not complementary. I have talked down a parent or two who thought their kid was being treated unfairly by me. I have seen drunken fans at college games almost come to blows. One of them tried to fight me in front of my house 3-4 years ago
2 years ago at an AAU basketball game I saw an exasperated African-America referee toss an elderly white fan toward the end of the game who wouldn't get off the ref's ass. The fact that the ref put up with it as long as he did was a testament to his professionalism. But I remember well the sheer hatred in the man's eyes as the young referee threatened to have him arrested if he didn't leave.
Dear God in Heaven. What if you injected a firearm into any of these scenarios? What possible good could have been the result?
This thing would have gone to the Governor if the SEC and the Sun Belt Conferences had not cleared their throats. Both conferences expressed reluctance to send teams representing their "member institutions" as they grandly put it to stadiums and arenas where some folks might be bearing arms. Indeed, ASU football coach Blake Anderson correctly labeled the bill as "a recipe for disaster." Coach Anderson knows. He deals with parents and fans. He knows that emotions can run high at the ball park
But money talks. And the SEC and the NCAA has more money than the NRA even. And if it's one thing the Solons on Woodlane Avenue understand, it's money.
My preacher friend understands it too.
"There was a time when politicians used to at least listen to what the church had to say," he said as he shook his head ruefully. " Now it's just money. Now the NCAA and the SEC are acting as the moral arbiters of society on these social issues involving sports. Because they have so much money. I just find it interesting."
Alas, some of the handmaidens of the NRA in the Senate were not eager to give up the fight. Yesterday's paper reported that Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado referred to the right to carry a gun as a "God given right" which would presumably trump the concerns of the SEC.
I know my Bible a little. And unless Monty Python's "Book of Armaments" has recently been added to the Canon, I don't believe it confers such a right.
And tell that to Sen. Stephanie Flowers whose sister was shot and killed. She represents Pine Bluff, which has experienced more than its fair share of gun crime.
"Where I'm from, the God I serve does not tell me that I have a fundamental right to carry a gun," she said in response to Sen. Garner's dubious theology. "They are peaceable people, loving people. And the God I serve is a God of love. So don't tell me about no damn 'everybody gotta have a gun.' Go to hell with your guns. I'm voting for the damn bill."
My preacher buddy might have phrased it differently. Then again, maybe he wouldn't.
Or he might allow as how God moves in strange and mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.
Like through the SEC.