I’ve never been a fan of the death penalty in America, and have expressed as much in the past. Living in Virginia, though, I get a good reminder of the revenge-seeking blood lust that often surrounds the application of the death penalty. I can only imagine what it’s like in Texas, but sometimes the state offers a glimpse:
A judge who halted an execution because the inmate was mentally ill has agreed to force the man to take anti-psychotic medication so he can be put to death.
The inmate, Steven Kenneth Staley, 43, has refused to take his medication. A jury decided he should be put to death for the killing of a Fort Worth restaurant manager during a botched robbery.
Do I really need to go on? A man is ruled too mentally ill to be executed, so the state should medicate him so that he can be aware of his execution? I can’t be the only person who finds this absurd.
I have no idea what Staley’s mental status was at the time he murdered the restaurant manager. I’ll assume he was found competent since he faces execution. So what difference does it make that he’s now mentally incompetent. If the death penalty is just, and acts as a deterrent, why should his current mental status matter?
In 1986, the Supreme Court held the Eighth Amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause bars states from executing prisoners who aren’t aware of the punishment they are about to face and don’t understand why they are facing it.
This case seems to be a stretch at interpreting that ruling. I can’t conclude any other reason than simple retribution. “You’re a murderer, you don’t know what’s about to happen, so we’re going to make you aware. You’ll suffer, God damnit.”
I don’t feel safer from that.
Update: More thoughts on the larger death penalty topic at Balloon Juice.