Saturday, May 12, 2007

Truth needed in execution questions

Court needs to allow method of discovery

Philip Workman didn't make it easy for the state to evaluate whether his execution by injection was painful or otherwise inhumane. Before he died, the convicted cop killer stipulated that his body not be autopsied because it would violate his religious beliefs.

Workman was the first Tennessean put to death under a new lethal injection process. By measuring the level of drugs in body fluids, it could be determined whether the condemned was unconscious while the execution was taking place and would be unable to feel pain.

In fact, Florida declared a moratorium on lethal injection executions after a medical examiner found in an autopsy that the injection needle had been stuck through the condemned man's vein. It took him twice as long to die as a result.

Meanwhile, Workman's body is sealed in a body bag at least until a federal court takes up the matter next week.

Although some people may say that a criminal sentenced to death for a heinous crime ought to die as slowly and as painfully as possible, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments."

As it is, states such as Tennessee already have to face numerous legal battles to get a convicted person to the death chamber — Workman himself was on Death Row for a quarter century. They don't need the added burden of having their entire execution method declared unconstitutional.

As far as Workman's specific case is concerned, his wish for his body to not be defiled will be weighed against the state's interest in determining what his final moments of life were like. At the least, the courts should allow the extraction of blood and other bodily fluids in a minimally invasive procedure.

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