Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Botched Execution?…

Clayton Lockett      Stephanie Nieman

How do you “botch” an execution?

Oh yeah, IF the goal is a sterile and painless death, then anything less seems, “botched.”

Fact is, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were geniuses – BOTH of them (as well as a few of their friends) were far smarter men than any we have around today. If either of them were around today, all modesty aside, they’d tell you so. Neither was at all shy about proclaiming their brilliance…and rightly so. They wrote and very clearly defined the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment,” which meant that NONE of the various penalties of THAT day were considered either “cruel,” or particularly “unusual,” which included hanging, shooting (firing squads), usually reserved for soldiers, as it was considered a more honorable death than hanging.

It was Thomas Jefferson who helped institute the first reforms of the death penalty between 1776-1800. Thomas Jefferson and four others, authorized to undertake a complete revision of Virginia’s laws, proposing a law that recommended the death penalty for only treason and murder. After a stormy debate, the legislature defeated their bill by a single vote.  At the time, there were at least 13 crimes that one could be given the death penalty for.

TODAY, we seek to entitle those convicted of the most cruel and unusual acts a death that most cancer patients would pray for. THAT, seems cruel and unusual, at least in so much as it debases the victim, by elevating the concerns and treatment of the murderer.

Without question, the death penalty has, in numerous cases, been appallingly misapplied in this country. A cursory look at the files of the Innocence Project, or even a quick read of fiction-writer John Grisham’s NON-fiction work, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town( about the incompetent investigation of the murder of  Debra Sue Carter and the malicious prosecution of  Ron Williamson (using the actual killer’s testimony to convict the innocent Williamson), proves that, BUT the answer to prosecutorial misconduct and incompetence should NOT be an indictment of a legitimate form of punishment, but INSTEAD, the reforming of the rules prosecutors must operate under, even requiring DNA evidence in all such death penalty cases. If the goal is to eradicate prosecutorial misconduct, abuse and incompetence, then THAT and NOT the penalties meted out should be the focus.

In the most recent “botched” execution, that of Clayton Lockett, in Oklahoma, there is no question of his guilt. The crime he was justly given the death sentence for was horrific. In 1999 Lockett and two accomplices conducted a home invasion on the home of a guy he claimed owed him money. During that home invasion, 19 y/o Stephanie Neiman and another 19 y/o woman approached the house, as they’d been staying there. Miss Neiman’s friend was dragged into the house and hit in the face with a shotgun. Under duress, the friend then called Miss Neiman into the home and she was also hit in the face with the gun. Ms. Nieman’s friend was raped by all three men before both the homeowner and the two women were taken to a rural part of Kay County, Oklahoma.
Lockett told them that he was going to kill them all, and shot Miss Neiman twice when she refused to give him her keys and pickup’s alarm code. When she was shot, she was dragged to a shallow grave that had been dug by one of Lockett’s accomplices, Shawn Mathis. When Mathis told Lockett that Miss Neiman was still alive, Lockett ordered Mathis to bury her. She was subsequently buried alive.

Some have argued that the state should not be involved in the act of killing people. On that I can agree...with reservations. I’ve long supported a system whereby a person is convicted, with DNA evidence required for a sentence of death, but when that sentence is delivered, independent contractors or bounty hunters would track down, incapacitate and ultimately deliver an “appropriate” death sentence. In a case like this, Mr Lockett would be severely beaten and buried alive. It is NOT “cruel and unusual,” as it was no more “cruel and unusual” than what Clayton Lockett himself subjected his victims to. Moreover, the state is NOT directly involved in the meting out of the actual penalty, it would merely pay the independent contractor a fee, or reward for carrying out that service.

Such a system would provide jobs to many existing for former mercenaries, professional hunters, even many former Special Forces members who come back from military engagements and still “miss the action.” Moreover, it would much more efficiently eradicate the plague of violent felons like Mr Lockett, while keeping the state’s hands relatively clean.

The system would, of course, be very structured. Those convicted would have their travel curtailed. Once basic guilt is firmly established, NO further “Appeals” on behalf of the condemned would be allowed.

Of course, there would be strict “rules of engagement” for the hunters in public areas. Perhaps they’d have to first tranquilize a target before taking him to an appropriate place for the execution, which would then be required to be filmed. The victim’s family could have a copy, so they could have some real closure on the event, if they so desired. Another caveat, ANYONE who offered any aid and comfort to a condemned becomes a legitimate target upon that act. This way, the hunters couldn’t be sued over “collateral damage,” occurring to those who may have offered a condemned person sustenance and sanctuary.

There ARE better ways of dealing with such issues. Without question, prosecutorial rules NEED to be reformed and the state probably shouldn’t be directly involved in the execution business. BUT prosecutorial abuse, misconduct and incompetence DOES NOT condemn the death penalty, any more than it condemns ANY other penalty given out under such flawed circumstances. YES, require the state to PROVE guilt, and with DNA evidence so readily available, coupled with ubiquitous surveillance cameras, that’s become easier and easier to accomplish with each passing year, THEN let the state simply “contract out” the actual retrieval (we already pay bounty hunters to track down bail jumpers) and execution of the condemned.

Like any idea, this one would require a bit of fine-tuning, but I think it preserves both the honor & integrity of the state and the respect & dignity of the VICTIM, the person who most often gets lost in the existing process.

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