Death Row Inmate Challenges State’s Execution Process

This month convicted death row inmate Ronald B. Smith was pronounced dead. Smith endured tortuous pain and suffering for 34 minutes by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. According to the Department of Corrections spokesman, Bob Horton, the time it took inmate Smith to die was within the normal time frame of death row protocol. Horton also noted that Smith coughed periodically within the first 13 minutes indicating that he was still conscious.

Robbery Charges

In 1994, Smith was convicted of robbing and murdering Casey Wilson, a store clerk in the state of Alabama. After trial, the jury sentenced Smith to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, the trial court overrode the jury’s decision and put Smith on death row citing a similar case Hurst v. Florida. After being delayed twice by the US Supreme Court, Smith was finally executed on Thursday, December 8th.

New lethal injection drug

Traditionally, lethal injections require three drugs, 1.) Sodium thiopental or pentobarbital used to put the individual to sleep, 2.) Pancuronium bromide causing paralysis, and 3.) Potassium chloride to stop the heart. However, manufacturers began withholding pentobarbital for execution purposes. This led Alabama and other states to use an alternative drug called midazolam. Though Smith’s lawyers discussed that this new drug midazolam is only a sedative and does not put a person unconscious like the former drug pentobarbital. In fact, midazolam sedates a person enough to restrict communication while doing nothing to suppress the feeling of pain. Consequently individuals will now be exposed to horrific pain and suffering caused by the potassium chloride stopping the heart while being unable to express this pain.

Lawsuit Against States

A handful of lawsuits have been filed declaring alternative drugs like midazolam are causing unjustified suffering. Since 2014, numerous executions using midazolam have been considered botched causing states to issue holds on capital punishment. Yet the Supreme Court had a 5-4 ruling in June 2015 to continue the use of midazolam during executions.

The primary method of execution within the 31 death-penalty states is death by lethal injection. According to ABC News, “of more than 500 lethal injections done in the U.S. since 1982, death penalty opponents can point to only about 20 cases that have gone wrong. But when it happens, they say, it can be torture”. Lethal injection is anything but humane, causing excruciating pain and suffering to its unwilling victims. The executions can last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour leaving the prisoners gasping for air and convulsing. Autopsies have even shown needles found in soft tissue along with chemical burns to the skin.

San Diego Prison Inmates

Currently San Diego has 40 inmates on death row and California has 714 inmates on death row. Often time’s these inmates spend 15 years on death row. Approximately one quarter of these death row inmates in the U.S. die of natural causes. Each inmate on death row costs taxpayers $1.26 million each year. This is $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population.

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