In California officials have postponed, for the second time in less than 24 hours, the execution of convicted killer Michael Morales. Prison authorities called off the execution after failing to find a medical professional willing to administer the fatal drug dose. Morales was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a seventeen year old girl in 1983.
The victim’s mother, Barbara Christian, was ‘outraged’ by the repeated delays. ‘I’m totally disillusioned with the justice system. We’ve been waiting 25 years with the expectancy that he is gonna pay for his crimes,’ she said. ‘It feels like we just got punched in the stomach.’
Each execution carried out in America seems to come with its own distinct set of absurdities. In this instance it was the medical profession who refused to participate because they could not ascertain whether Morales would receive sufficient pain sedatives to ensure his execution was without pain. But that pales in comparison with the special circumstances surrounding his case. His conviction was partly based upon a jailhouse informant’s apparently false testimony that Morales confessed his crime to him. Years later, the prison informant said his conversation with Morales was in Spanish – a language Morales does not speak!
This doesn’t even address the fact that California’s death device, which is supposed to exterminate the convict in a less spectacular fashion than their electric chair, which occasionally caused the convicted one to literally explode in the chair, has been repeatedly re-engineered after evidence has shown the device to be impermissibly cruel and torturous.
Just a few months back America executed seventy-six year old Clarence Allen. He was sentenced to die on his birthday. There is absolutely no dispute that Mr. Allen was a despicable individual and certainly deserved to be removed from society at all cost. But what I find to be so absurd is that Allen had a few months earlier suffered a heart-attack and the prison medical staff worked diligently to bring him back to life, so they could celebrate his birthday, by literally pulling this man with a frail voice, eyesight almost shot, and his ability to walk sapped by advanced diabetes, out of his wheelchair in order to strap him onto his execution gurney.
And then there is Tookie Williams. Any Hollywood movie you may have seen that depicts the worst in organised gang criminals would not sufficiently portray this man’s behaviour when he was a teenager. Williams, the Crips gang founder, was executed by lethal injection. He had a host of celebrities who were supporting a change in his sentence from death to life in prison.
During decades of waiting for his execution, Williams had worked diligently to disseminate messages to young people against joining gangs and finding a personal relationship with God. He had even written a book directed towards children, implanting a strong message as to why it was wrong to form or join gangs. Literally thousands petitioned California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, for an act of clemency claiming that this man had clearly redeemed himself and had literally changed lives for the better.
Anaesthetists, members of the American Medical Association, say their participation is a violation of their Hippocratic Oath. One physician spoke of the conflict that exists in his care for these prisoners; he cares for them for many years, then must participate in killing them. He simply can’t do it.
President Bush’s home state, Texas, which has the highest rate of executions in America (359 since 1982), has easily sorted this conflict. According to Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Corrections (now there’s an oxymoron!), they have a phalanx of volunteers, many of who have military training, to assist with the exterminations. I won't even begin to discuss the irony of that, considering all we've recently seen in the news regarding the alleged extermination of Iraqi families by US troops.
This is in no way to discount the pain and suffering all the victims and their families have endured. I have addressed the issue of rage on several occasions. However, I am compelled to wonder whether had the convicts been sentenced to life in prison, without any possibility of parole, with perhaps the exception of a joint agreement by the victim’s families and the governor, would this have permitted the families to have moved on, rather than, as Barbara Christian stated, been left ‘waiting for 25 years.’
And no matter how vile and atrocious the crime the individual has committed, what is the more heinous and barbarous act?:
To have committed the crimes these people committed:
Or to lock an individual in a box for an indeterminate length of time, constantly reviewing and reminding him of the day he’s going to have his head and leg shaved, a catheter inserted in his ureter so that he doesn’t wet himself in presence of the viewing gallery, and some gauze inserted in his rectum to prevent involuntary evacuation due to the convulsion of his muscles, have a hood placed over his head so the viewers don’t have to see the blood run from his eyes and then thousands of volts of electricity passed through his body...
Or remind him of the day that he will be strapped down on a gurney, a catheter inserted in his arm, and a mixture to place his body in shock for a few minutes will be injected into him, and then whilst he’s in shock and incapable of responding, another liquid will be injected to cause his heart to stop.
And then, perhaps a month or a week prior to the execution date, tell the condemned that the date has been put off, for the purpose of appeals. And then, again, perhaps just a few hours before, after the condemned has said goodbye to friends and family, and been prepared for his execution, to be told, ‘congratulations, we have a 24-hour reprieve.’ And yet, again, 24 hours later, tell the individual ‘ whew, that was close mate, we have yet another extension.’
No matter what side of this debate you stand on, it does little more than to show humanity at its darkest.