Ledell Lee executed Thursday 11:56 PM CT in Arkansas
April 21, 2017 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Following an evening of repeated appeals, Arkansas officials proceeded with their first execution in 12 years. Ledell Lee, on death row for over two decades, was declared dead this Thursday at 11:56 PM. His death warrant was set to expire 4 minutes later. AR Governor Asa Hutchinson is rushing to execute 8 men before April ends and the state's midazolam supply expires. The lethal cocktail reportedly also included one drug acquired under false pretenses and another "donated" by a mystery supplier in a parking lot. Justice Neil Gorsuch sided with the conservative majority in denying a stay—his first recorded vote.

Justices Breyer (calling the execution spree "arbitrary") and Sotomayor (focusing on the cruelty of the methods) wrote separate dissents.

Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean gives a window into the circus that characterized Lee's poor legal representation. The Fair Punishment Project has published a report on each of the 8 condemned men.
posted by cichlid ceilidh (43 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
AR Governor Asa Hutchinson is rushing to execute 8 men before April ends and the state's midazolam supply expires.

I am honestly surprised that they're even bothering to observe such a "technicality". I guess it's more an excuse than a reason, though: "Whoop, gotta execute a bunch of people before my dick gets s-- I mean, before the drugs 'expire'."
posted by Etrigan at 10:50 AM on April 21 [12 favorites]


this is shameful
posted by thelonius at 10:55 AM on April 21 [9 favorites]


Someday someone can explain to me how it is that we can take an aging or ill pet to the vet and have them put to sleep and it's simple and peaceful and feels like a good exit, but we're unable to do the same thing for humans.
posted by hippybear at 11:04 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


I realize that sounds like I'm talking about end of life euthanasia issues, but I'm really talking about the need for this "Three Drug Cocktail" stuff that we use for doing these things.

I have strong opinions about the death penalty (against), but if we're going to have it as the law of the land, why does it have to contain such horror?
posted by hippybear at 11:06 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


I mean, can't we just use a massive dose of fentanyl? That seems to be killing lots of people quickly every day.
posted by hippybear at 11:07 AM on April 21 [4 favorites]


.
posted by jedicus at 11:07 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


The whole drugs thing is just so bizarre. Apparently they can't just go to a supplier of laboratory chemicals, or even veterinary supplies, because they need them to be FDA-approved, human-medical-grade drugs. Which is weird, because I'm fairly certain the FDA doesn't have "intentional death" as an approved use for any of the drugs in question, so you're well off the label anyway, plus it's not like the drugs are being prescribed by a physician (they're barred from doing so) — which if you are being that much of a stickler for process, being unprescribed seems like it would make possessing a controlled substance or giving it to someone else kinda... legally problematic. But obviously there's legal reasoning to get around that, making me confused as to why, if you're able to justify that, why is the drug being a day or two out of date (not like it magically stops working when it hits that date) the line in the sand that's just too far to step over?

The whole thing has strong Brazil tinges to it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:11 AM on April 21 [22 favorites]


death warrant
Why is this a real phrase that we made? Why did we make this world a world that would make us need this phrase??? Who is responsible? I want to speak to the manager.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:15 AM on April 21 [8 favorites]


That Fair Punishment Project report is just...heart-breaking isn't the word. As a society, we care so little for children, especially poor children and children of color. And we care even less when they grow up to be unhealthy adults. And then we (as a society) MURDER THEM when there could have been a blinking neon sign pointing that this was the direction in which their lives might go. (I'm not saying they didn't commit terrible crimes. But terrible crimes were also committed against them.)
posted by Aquifer at 11:19 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


I'm firmly opposed to the death penalty, particularly in the way that it is currently used in sentencing, as well as how it is actually carried out on prisoners. I don't think modern society should still be doing this.

That said, since we are still doing this, can anyone explain to me why there's an insistence on using baroque combinations of injectable drugs, which can expire on the shelf, are subject to incorrect dosages and procedures, and occasionally cause horrible and violent (one might even say "cruel and unusual") reactions? It's like the people carrying out the punishments need it to be an awful blood ritual, no matter how "humane" we try to make it.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:32 AM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Midazolam is a horrible choice of a drug for lethal injections. Its effects vary far to much from person to person, and despite the veneer of professionalism, executions are not medical procedures carried out by people who know what they are doing. This comment quoting a death penalty advocate who also knows about drugs is spot on.
posted by TedW at 11:33 AM on April 21 [7 favorites]


Is this Gorsuch's first vote on the Court?
posted by edeezy at 11:36 AM on April 21


death warrant
Why is this a real phrase that we made? Why did we make this world a world that would make us need this phrase???


Yes, this is the first time I've ever read about a 'death warrant' referring to an actual thing, and not just something tough guys say in movies, and it is horrifying. Particularly coming from people who like to refer to themselves as Christian.
posted by Flashman at 11:36 AM on April 21


oh it says that in the post nice work Neil
posted by edeezy at 11:36 AM on April 21 [1 favorite]


I have strong opinions about the death penalty (against), but if we're going to have it as the law of the land, why does it have to contain such horror?

I am completely, unreservedly, with no exceptions whatsoever, opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. I find it shameful and horrifying that the government can arrange to walk a living person into a room and carry out a corpse. More shamefully, we don't have the simple moral courage to end that life quickly and certainly, instead insisting on methods that appease our delicate sensibilities at the cost of potentially excruciating prolonged pain for the condemned. Lethal injection sometimes fails, and even when it does work, we have no way of knowing how painful the process if the drug that causes paralysis was effective. Electrocution often had the outward appearance of efficiency, but when it failed, it failed in ghastly, grisly ways. If you want a quick, sure, over-in-an-instant process, human civilization has devised none better than the guillotine. Second to that, a well-trained and expert firing squad. But those methods, mercifully quick for the executed person, force the state's representatives to confront the full bloody reality of killing. Complete cowards, the governing officials of the death-penalty states consistently choose in favor of heightening the risk of horrifying pain as long as it also makes their stomachs less queasy. It is reprehensible.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:36 AM on April 21 [43 favorites]


Religion. Once again asserts it's grisly nature. And if you don't think the death penalty is religion driven....well, you have not spent much time in the red states.
posted by notreally at 11:44 AM on April 21 [3 favorites]


Why is ["death warrant"] a real phrase that we made?

I'd always heard that the idea of a "death warrant" was something inherited from old English law, based (the justifications I've heard vary) on the idea that executions had to be ordered by the Crown on the recommendation of a court, and not the court itself. It turns out this is only true for Peers, though a written warrant was not required; English law (as of 1880, anyway) never had the concept of a "death warrant". Although enough people apparently believed that it did to cause someone to try and debunk the issue.

There's a pretty deep rabbit hole you could go down, looking at modern "death warrants" as a sort of Baudrillarian simulacrum: the concrete reification of our collective perception of propriety and due process, but based on something that never really existed.

Ironically, the actual procedure for issuing a sentence of death in the traditional English system was simultaneously more macabre and also perhaps more humanistic and less bureaucratic than the modern US one (from the page immediately following the one linked above):
The practice of our Judges in putting on a Black Cap when they condemn a criminal to death will be found on consideration to have a deep and sad significance. Covering the head was in ancient days a sign of mourning [...] When, therefore, the Judge puts on the black cap, it is a very significant as well as solemn procedure. He puts on mourning, for he is about to pronounce the forfeit of a life. And, accordingly, the act itself, the putting on of the black cap, is generally understood to be significant. It intimates that the Judge is about to pronounce no merely registered or suppositious sentence; in the very formula of condemnation he has put himself in mourning for the convicted culprit, as for a dead man. The criminal is then left for execution, and, unless mercy exerts its sovereign prerogative, suffers the sentence of the law. The mourning cap expressly indicates his doom.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:49 AM on April 21 [5 favorites]


  why is the drug being a day or two out of date (not like it magically stops working when it hits that date) the line in the sand that's just too far to step over?

Because, as in the Himmler post from yesterday, those who carry out these atrocities need a flawless system to justify their actions. The justifications may be based on lies, but must have a rigid completeness for the perpetrators to keep their version of sanity.

I mean, using this drug after it has expired, what's it gonna do — kill someone?
posted by scruss at 11:52 AM on April 21 [6 favorites]


Back in 2011, the DEA raided the State of Georgia to confiscate stores of the paralytic agent that had been illegally imported. There's a big stack of court cases specific to this particular method, and I suspect that the states don't want to crack open the door for appeals on the grounds that the state is violating FDA guidelines for storage and disposal.

Of course, that could change tomorrow if the SCotUS says that the burden of proof is on the convicted to come up with a better idea. That is the macabre legal logic behind some of the lethal injection case law apparently.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:58 AM on April 21


I mean, using this drug after it has expired, what's it gonna do — kill someone?

Well, so, I don't know about midazolam in particular, but there are some drugs that lose their efficacy as they age. Since midazolam is supposed to be the knock-out drug, administered to put the doomed person to sleep. Second is the paralytic which is only administered to comfort those watching the execution because the last drug administered is potassium chloride which is acidic and basically would cause thrashing on the table in even a sedated-unconscious person.

If your knock-out drug is losing its potency, then how can you claim you are not being cruel in a legal sense to the person you are killing?
posted by hippybear at 12:00 PM on April 21


There is no such thing as "fair punishment". That's the problem. "Fair" implies that there is some scale of justice that can balance harm against harm and come up equal. What utter madness. Punishment might sometimes be necessary, but the idea that it can be fair is one of our most toxic myths.

But philosophy is no use here. Just how? How does a person sit down at a desk and determine that another human being is to die? How do you get up the next day and talk to your friends and play with your children and browse the internet? How do you sleep?

Religion. Once again asserts it's grisly nature. And if you don't think the death penalty is religion driven....well, you have not spent much time in the red states.

I am not sure this is a particularly well supported claim. The data suggest that white Protestants in the US favour the death penalty over life imprisonment, but the best predictive factor isn't religiosity, it's race. While white Catholics barely come down on the side of life, all non-white (including Hispanic) groups of all faiths and denominations and none oppose the death penalty by a significant amount. Religion is frequently a tool of racist bigotry, but I think it's pretty clear that what drives the death penalty in the US is racism.
posted by howfar at 12:08 PM on April 21 [5 favorites]


> Of course, that could change tomorrow if the SCotUS says that the burden of proof is on the convicted to come up with a better idea.

Sotomayor comments on this in her dissent. I can't find reference to it elsewhere, but the Slate article says Lee, himself, requested a firing squad. I don't want to focus too much on the technical details of the execution, though. The whole lead up is such a clusterfuck. Just the information that the judge in his first trial was having an affair with the assistant prosecutor at the time and later married them… I am slack jawed.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 12:11 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


The key is that pretty much everything in the US is driven by racism once you sit down and really look at it.
posted by hippybear at 12:11 PM on April 21 [6 favorites]


There's a certain part of me that despises this as a lust for taking life.

Angry denunciation provides comfort without capturing the full horror of what has happened. Rather, this killing is done out of a feeling of obligation; obligation to the law, to nation, to god, and to fellow citizens. Undoing this sanguinary network of obligation will require intervening in all of those relations.
posted by ethansr at 12:13 PM on April 21


Looks like puddledork nailed it.
(Note: link to older US politics megathread)

#GorsuchTheMerciless, y'all.
posted by obliviax at 12:40 PM on April 21


oh of course Gorsuch's first vote on the Court was literally to kill someone I don't know what I was expecting
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 1:04 PM on April 21 [18 favorites]


Fuck! Asa!
posted by wierdo at 1:24 PM on April 21


The death penalty just creates this whole industry of lawyers, too, some of whom are trying to save a life and some of them trying to take it. Losing sleep for days and sometimes weeks on end.

I know why we do this, but WHY do we DO this?
posted by allthinky at 1:31 PM on April 21


I am never, if I can help it, going to Arkansas. I hope there is a national boycott......
posted by swlabr at 1:50 PM on April 21


There are three more executions scheduled in Arkansas next week. If you feel comfortable, call Gov. Asa Hutchinson at (501) 682-2345.
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 2:20 PM on April 21 [2 favorites]


Well, so, I don't know about midazolam in particular, but there are some drugs that lose their efficacy as they age. Since midazolam is supposed to be the knock-out drug, administered to put the doomed person to sleep. Second is the paralytic which is only administered to comfort those watching the execution because the last drug administered is potassium chloride which is acidic and basically would cause thrashing on the table in even a sedated-unconscious person.

By the way midazolam is itself a replacement for what was originally/traditionally sodium thiopental, and this substitution in itself seems fairly cruel to me because as I understand - and as TedW discusses upthread - midazolam by itself is not an extraordinarily effective or reliable general anesthetic. Induction of not-quite-unconsciousness, followed by use of a paralytic, followed by a painful potassium chloride injection has the potential to be a horrific way to go. Oddly, one of the other experimental "drug cocktails," combining mizadolam with hydromorphone (dilaudid) sounds comparatively reasonable to me as a means of killing "humanely" if used correctly - an opioid/benzo overdose? However it seems it may take too long or be disturbing to onlookers (partly it sounds like they're being kind of pointlessly stingy with their initial dosing?). And that brings us to the real reason executions use unnecessarily complicated drug combinations which, if anything, increase the potential for an extraordinarily cruel death. It has nothing to do with sparing suffering of the condemned, and everything to do with obscuring suffering, and making sure nobody is late for lunch.
posted by atoxyl at 3:43 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Christ, what assholes we are to each other.

I am 100% against the death penalty, for a variety of reasons. But even if I supported it... for fuck's sake, it's 2017 and we can't even manage to end a single life in a humane painless way?

Look, you bloodthirsty self-righteous jackasses. Pure nitrogen, delivered by mask or in a chamber. The lack of oxygen induces sleep in seconds and painless death in a minute or two without even the panic or discomfort of suffocation (because the body doesn't detect a buildup of carbon dioxide). Costs basically nothing, has no expiration date, doesn't cause pain, and doesn't make our society look like a bunch of backward sadistic fucks. If you must do this terrible thing, at least do it in the least terrible way possible.
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 8:32 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


Pater Aletheias: "If you want a quick, sure, over-in-an-instant process, human civilization has devised none better than the guillotine. Second to that, a well-trained and expert firing squad. But those methods, mercifully quick for the executed person, force the state's representatives to confront the full bloody reality of killing. Complete cowards, the governing officials of the death-penalty states consistently choose in favor of heightening the risk of horrifying pain as long as it also makes their stomachs less queasy. It is reprehensible."

If states insist on killing people inert gas asphyxiation is what should be used. It's not at all messy (one just dies, no struggles) and it can be so unnoticeable (let alone painless) to the people exposed that workers in my industry have to take regular special training so we don't kill ourselves accidentally.
posted by Mitheral at 10:26 PM on April 21 [1 favorite]


Or on lack of preview what Two unicycles and some duct tape said.
posted by Mitheral at 10:27 PM on April 21


capital punishment is really hard to deal with morally, and valid arguments exist on both sides, but remember, at least under our current system, juries impose it. not judges. so at least it's not just one asshole having a bad day.
posted by wibari at 11:03 PM on April 21


.
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:36 AM on April 22


There is no valid argument for continuing the death penalty in our current system, since it is arbitrarily decided, often applied to the mentally deficient and mentally ill...as well as being racist as hell.
posted by agregoli at 6:34 AM on April 22 [5 favorites]


Religion. Once again asserts it's grisly nature. And if you don't think the death penalty is religion driven....well, you have not spent much time in the red states.
posted by notreally at 2:44 PM on April 21 [2 favorites +] [!]

Nah. Religion is the tool, not the carpenter.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:26 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]


If you want a quick, sure, over-in-an-instant process, human civilization has devised none better than the guillotine.

Yeah, no. The guillotine failed in plenty of grisly ways over the years it was used.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 12:19 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]


It's not like we don't know drugs that reliably and painlessly kill people - hospitals deal with ODs from alcohol + opiates all the time. But the point is, the death must not be enjoyable in any way... can't be giving a horrible criminal an IV laced with alcohol, wait an hour, and hit them with a lethal dose of heroin. Nope nope nope; that's too close to getting high. And besides, that doesn't give us an easily identifiable time of death - it's just, person sleeps, breathing gets slower, eventually stops.

And also there's no good FDA procedures for it, but given the macabre lack of medical overview of the whole chemical-death process, I suspect that could be argued around. We have humane ways to reliably kill people; they're just not cruel enough to pass muster with those who want to see prisoners punished.

Secondary note: I am always annoyed to see "religion" used as a euphemism for "Christianity." One, it erases those of us in other religions, like Buddhism and Wicca; two, it downplays Christianity's influence on these legal issues. Saying "religion" implies it's a vague social force, rather than the doctrines of specific sects that are pushing their version of morality on the rest of us. (However, I agree with the point made that there's a lot more racism than religious bias in these laws.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:40 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]


For those of you claiming that religion is the driving force behind the death penalty, are you just stubbornly overlooking the fact that, as the OP points out, one of the most active and widely recognized anti-death penalty activists is a Roman Catholic nun?
posted by Valuev at 5:18 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


#notallreligiouspeople

Evangelical Christianity (more specifically the Southern Baptists, who were much nicer before being taken over by radicals in the late 70s-early 80s) as practiced in much of the country, Arkansas being one of those places, is very much about vengeance. I've long since blocked out the rationale used when "turn the other cheek" was discussed in Sunday School, but the general gist is that it's all Old Testament furious anger except when it comes to being saved by accepting Jesus. Oh, and the conviction that Revelation is a prophecy to be taken literally, hence the prepper thing.

I mean these jackasses were of the opinion that my Mom's MS was the result of some personal moral failing earlier in life and that she would have been healed if she had been a better Christian. Never mind that she was by far the closest person to the ideals preached by Jesus Christ of anyone I have ever known. The woman was a saint.

Anyway, they are of the opinion that any suffering experienced by the condemned is the direct result of God's will. Had they truly accepted Jesus and repented their sins, they would have gone peacefully. Anyone who suffers is proven, to their mind, to be an unrepentant wicked sinner who God Himself chose to torture on the way out as retribution for their crimes. And if it was God's will that we not execute people, He would inspire our lawmakers to outlaw it or failing that, He would take the person before the sentence could be carried out.

I'm not sure why God doesn't stay the hands of the evil abortion doctors killing the innocent babies, but I don't think anyone has ever accused modern evangelism of being internally consistent.
posted by wierdo at 12:00 AM on April 27


I'm starting to think of Christianists separately from Christianity, in the same sense that al Qaeda et al are Islamists and only tangentially related to Islam itself. So the people who come up with elaborate theological reasoning to explain why they personally like seeing bad people die get to be Christianists now.
posted by Etrigan at 3:21 AM on April 27 [1 favorite]


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