Stop charade, fully repeal death penalty

When the General Assembly abolished the death penalty two years ago, this newspaper said the state should have the courage and consistency to outlaw government sanctioned killing in all instances, including the 11, now 12, men awaiting execution for death penalty crimes committed before April 25, 2012.

It remains our position that a state-sponsored execution disproportionately targets minorities, has no deterrent value, cannot be undone if there is a mistake and is a barbaric act that lowers the state to the level of the killer.

Now, we can add the botched execution in Oklahoma that has prompted several death penalty states to suspend executions until serious questions about lethal injection - the method of execution in Oklahoma and Connecticut - are resolved.

Then there is a practical problem. Connecticut has none of the three execution drugs required by state law to administer its leftover death penalty and can't legally get them.

To kill a person legally in Connecticut, the executioner must use sodium thiopental, which induces unconsciousness; pancronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

The Department of Correction has confirmed it has none of these drugs and no way to obtain them because many domestic and foreign drugmakers, including those in the 28-nation European Union, have objected to using their products in executions. This has led to severe drug shortages for executions in most of the 32 states where the death penalty has not been abolished, as well as in Connecticut, where it exists for a dozen men.

"There's no state that I know that currently has access to these drugs," Michael Lawlor, the state's undersecretary of criminal justice policy told the Associated Press. Asked what the state would do to carry out an execution, Lawlor said he didn't know. "There is no execution imminent in Connecticut, so we can wait and see."

There was no execution imminent in 2005 when one of the longtime death row inhabitants, Michael Ross, voluntarily gave up his appeal rights and became the only person to die of lethal injection in Connecticut. It was the state's first execution since 1960.

In a state that has abolished capital punishment and has clearly had no appetite for it for more than half a century, the current situation borders on the grotesque as it does in the 32 states using lethal injection. Ironically, this is the method considered the more humane substitute for other, barbaric means of legally taking a life.

There's more. We do not know who lethally injected Mr. Ross, but until 2010, it was often an anesthesiologist. Since then, the American Board of Anesthesiologists has announced it will revoke the working credentials of any anesthesiologist who participates in an execution on the grounds that "we are healers, not executioners," a board spokesman said. The American Medical Association has long opposed doctor involvement.

Capital punishment supporters have maintained doctors are not needed to administer injections and prison employees will do, but the executioner's qualifications could lead to more years of litigation, along with challenges questioning the sources of drugs and how they have been tested.

All of this could be resolved if the Connecticut Supreme Court rules in favor of death row inmate Eduardo Santiago, whose arguments that the penalty's abolition should be retroactive were heard last year. A ruling is expected soon. Our expectation is that the court will find the current death penalty law unconstitutional.

But even if the court rules against Santiago, there are many other legal issues to be resolved, Bridgeport attorney Michael Fitzpatrick, who represented Michael Ross, told The Connecticut Post. "We still have not had the federal courts take a hard look at the state's death penalty statute" or rule whether the state's death penalty statute is constitutional.

The likelihood is that none of the 12 will ever be executed and some court, state or federal, will find, as Michael Courtney, the state's head of the Office of Public Defender, has said, "there is nothing more arbitrary and capricious" than the present situation in which a person committing a capital felony on April 24, 2012, the day before Connecticut abolished capital punishment, can be executed while the person committing the exact same crime the next day cannot.

The state has found that capital punishment is morally wrong. It is and it should be without exception.

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