What are you so nervous about? Everything’s cool.

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.

2 thoughts on “What are you so nervous about? Everything’s cool.”

  1. You wrote:
    “Living in Virginia, though, I get a good reminder of the revenge-seeking blood lust that often surrounds the application of the death penalty.”
    This reminds me of the near-riot just a few years back in Maryland when the state proposed keeping the death penalty, but closing off executions to all but staff and one official witness, who would then confirm that the penalty was carried out and the convict was absolutely dead. In the interests of respect and good taste, you know.
    The outcry from the public was swift and repulsive. They demanded their God-given, Constitutionally-promised (both sound dubious to me) right to witness the twitching, smoking and/or bleeding execution in all its glory. Just to satisfy themselves, you know.
    Ah, so the point of the death penalty was not really punishment or keeping the public safe. A big part of it is satisfying public blood lust and vengeance. Of course, no one will admit that until their tickets to the show are threatened.
    The state was forced to back down, and executions in the Old Line State are now once again public spectacles.

  2. Brant,
    Thanks for the example. Stories like that strenghten my belief that the death penalty has nothing to do with deterrence.

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