Why Don’t We Just Shoot Condemned Inmates?
November 20, 2013 • By Vince Beiser •
No matter what your stance is on the death penalty, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for the man executed by the state of Missouri this morning. Joseph Paul Franklin was, without exaggeration, a white supremacist serial killer. His preferred targets were Jews, blacks, and anyone connected to interracial couples. During a three-year spree beginning in 1977, he murdered at least seven people, may have killed 15 more, and wounded civil rights leaders Vernon Jordan and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt for good measure. His victims include a father of three leaving a bar mitzvah, and two teenage African American boys.
But the most striking thing about Franklin’s case isn’t why he was killed, but how. He was among the first prisoners in America’s history to be executed by lethal injection using only a single drug—the sedative pentobarbital. Ever since lethal injection was introduced in the 1970s, virtually every state has used a combination of three drugs: one to put the inmate to sleep, the next to paralyze his muscles, and the last to stop his heart. That protocol has come under withering fire in recent years, however, from activists and medical professionals citing a growing body of evidence that indicates theprocess isn’t always as painless as it looks; in many cases, in fact, the prisoner may remain conscious but paralyzed, unable to scream or thrash, as her heart is slowly squeezed to a stop. One result is that chemical companies have stopped selling those drugs to prisons. Hence Missouri’s switch. (Other states are trying different drugs for their own executions.)