Lethal injection has gotten a lot of well-deserved scrutiny for being kind of cruel and unusual. The three-drug cocktail that is almost universally used in the United States is usually administered by a guard or other non-medical prison official, leading to a high number of mistakes, and the drugs are rumored to cause excruciating pain that often goes undetected. Governors across the country are halting executions in their state until the matter is investigated further. For example, former governor Jeb Bush put a moratorium on executions in Florida after it took a man named Angel Nieves Diaz 34 minutes to die, during which time reporters saw Diaz in obvious pain. Diaz’s body had 12 inch burns on its arms after the ordeal.
Yesterday’s execution of Christopher Newton in Ohio should add momentum to the fight against lethal injection. Newton took two hours to die. He had to be stuck at least 10 times with needles to insert the shunts where the chemicals are injected. An ACLU lawyer said that Newton had been effectively tortured to death.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Lethal injection was invented by an Oklahoma state legislator who wanted to see executions become more humane. But not only is there evidence that death by lethal injection is horribly grotesque, executions have actually become more common because the public has become more comfortable with lethal injection that it ever was with the electric chair (whose head fires — executions where a prisoner’s head would catch fire — unmistakably illustrated the method’s problems). That Oklahoma legislator is now a priest, and he preaches for the end of the death penalty. His remarkable story, and lots of info on the problems with lethal injection, can be found in this 2005 Mother Jones feature, “A Guilty Man.”