Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Ending capital punishment is the only sure way to end the endless debate about the death penalty. That, however, is unlikely to happen, at least anytime soon. Arguments about its tremendous cost (given the lengthy appeal process), its morality, its potential for killing innocent people and its dubious effectiveness as a crime deterrent have barely dented widespread public sentiment that killing killers is just and appropriate for victims and for society.
Fine. But so long as capital punishment remains the law of our state, we must ensure it is carried out as efficiently and humanely as possible.
And that is the point Circuit Judge Carven Angel of Ocala is making in the case of Ian Deco Lightbourne, convicted of the 1981 murder of horse breeder Nancy O'Farrell.
Angel, as we do, surely understands arguments, which are most likely correct but at this point has devolved into little more than a cliche, that convicted killers cared nothing about their victims' rights or humanity.
But in death penalty cases, the state is still killing human beings in the name of all the people of Florida, and we have a duty to see that this punishment does not slouch toward barbarism simply to satisfy a bloodlust.
Angel recently granted Lightbourne a stay of execution until the Department of Corrections can revise death row protocol to be more explicit in outlining qualifications, training and duties of the executioner and his assistants. Angel's proposed changes would also mandate the state to regularly certify the functioning of equipment in the death chamber.
"Our objective is to carry out a process that is consistent with evolving notions of the decency of man," Angel said in his July 22 ruling. "It is not going to involve unnecessary lingering or wanton infliction of pain or lingering death."
That observation sprang from the death of condemned killer Angel Diaz, whose Dec. 13 execution was initially botched by prison officials. Diaz required an unusual second round of fatal chemicals, and he took 34 minutes to die, about twice the normal time.
The Diaz case prompted former Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint a special commission that included doctors, lawyers, scientists and law enforcement officials to determine whether the state's practices satisfied "humanity, constitutional imperative and common sense." Some changes were developed and incorporated by DOC in May.
Judge Angel, however, believes they need more work. His points will soon be considered by the state Supreme Court.
Whether the high court agrees that the state has already done enough to safeguard the humane death of inmates or sides with Angel and orders further changes, Judge Angel deserves applause for at least trying to make certain that society is not becoming just like the people it wants to kill.