Friday, April 25, 2008

Ruling for justice

Crist right in vow to sign death orders

Once the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lethal injection, Gov. Charlie Crist wasted no time coming out with a pledge to begin signing death warrants for some of Florida's 388 inmates sitting on death row.

As he stated when he made the vow just hours after the high court's ruling, justice delayed is justice denied. We agree. And we urge the governor to quickly follow through on his commitment.

The victims' families deserve justice, denied for the past 16 months as Florida put all executions on hold while awaiting a decision in a Kentucky case.

The Supreme Court's 7-2 ruling affirmed Kentucky's method of execution by lethal injection, with justices rejecting the argument that human error and poor procedures during the administration of three drugs produced "unnecessary risk of pain and suffering" and thus violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Finally, Americans heard an opinion on the lethal injection death penalty that upholds common sense. In the court's ruling opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote: "Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual."

Roberts rightfully set the bar high, saying that challenges to the law must demonstrate that a state's lethal injection method "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain."

Justice Clarence Thomas, joining the majority opinion, determined that "a method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment only if it is deliberately designed to inflict pain," adding that "this is an easy case" because Kentucky's protocol was not.

The case revolved around the sequence of drugs used by Kentucky, Florida and 33 other states.

The procedure calls for rendering the condemned inmate unconscious with a general anesthetic. Then a paralyzing agent known as pancuronium bromide is injected, followed by a heart-stopping drug called potassium chloride. The potential problem occurs when an insufficient amount of anesthetic is injected, and the paralyzed inmate cannot express pain he feels from the other drugs.

Florida's botched execution of Angel Diaz in 2006, which took 34 minutes after needles went through his veins, brought about changes in the state's protocol for lethal injection. The new procedure requires a pause of a few minutes after the anesthetic injection in order to determine if the inmate is unconscious and unable to feel pain before moving ahead with the next drug.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a dissenting opinion, cited Florida and several other states as models for requiring extra steps in the protocol, noting that Kentucky should be compelled to do a better job.

But it remains clear that the Kentucky case will not end appeals over lethal injection issues, with even Justice John Paul Stevens conceding that all the conflicting opinions by the seven justices leave the door open to more challenges.

And society's debate over capital punishment, despite allowances in the Constitution and rulings by the Supreme Court affirming its validity, will not diminish.

But it's the law of the land. And the law - and the condemned murderers - should be executed.

We support Gov. Charlie Crist's strong stand on the issue. For justice.

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