The Death Penalty: Still “Freakish” After all These Years

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In a 1972 opinion, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote that the death penalty should not “be so wantonly and so freakishly imposed.” Thirty five years later his words still resonate.

Take lethal injection.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates how haphazardly the deadly cocktail is administered than yesterday’s revelation in Tennessee. Turns out that the state, which has 102 prisoners on death row, doesn’t have written guidelines listing the appropriate dosage amounts of the three chemicals used during executions. Instead, such details have been passed from prison guard to prison guard, through “oral tradition.” Oral tradition? Are we suddenly talking about handing down the secret family recipe for apple pie? This is insane.

Tennessee’s governor, Phil Bresdesen (a Dem) says he remains a steadfast “supporter of the death penalty”, but admits that this is a “huge failing.” And with four men scheduled to die within the next 90 days he has issued a moratorium on capital punishment, at least until May.

Tennessee’s moratorium comes after similar developments in Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, California, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota and North Carolina.

Which state will be next?

— Celia Perry

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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