Getting Even in Alabama

Daniel Siebert, who was convicted of capital murder in 1987, was scheduled to be executed yesterday at Holman State Prison in Atmore, Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld his execution even though Siebert’s lawyers argued that it should be postponed until the U.S. Supreme Court determines the constitutionality of lethal injection next year.

Alabama’s determination to execute Siebert comes despite the fact that he is suffering from terminal cancer and only has a few months to live anyway. Locking up criminals is supposed to serve four aims—rehabilitation, retribution, deterrence, and societal protection. But Siebert’s case surely proves that Alabama seeks only one of those ends when it comes to capital punishment: retribution.

The southern state claims it shouldn’t have to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether lethal injection is cruel or unusual because it has already changed its procedure in order to ensure that the condemned is not experiencing pain while he is being put to death. But the new safeguards are hardly adequate and they really don’t address the problem. The Birmingham News reports that the adjustments consist of calling out the inmate’s name, pinching his arm, and brushing a finger against his eyelash in order to see if he’s conscious enough to feel pain. But the inmate cannot respond to such stimulation because one of the three chemicals used during lethal injection paralyzes him and makes it impossible for him to flinch when he’s pinched, let alone cry out when the third deadly chemical pumps through his blood.

Thankfully the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the absurdity of all of this in the nick of time. On Wednesday it found that the changes to Alabama’s procedure were insufficient, and
delayed Siebert’s execution until the U.S. Supreme Court makes its
ruling. Maybe by then Siebert will have died from natural causes, rather than
state-inflicted vengeance.

—Celia Perry