Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Who are the victims of capital punishment? Not just the person executed. Not just his or her family and friends. Read on.

“Three minutes before Wellons was declared dead a nurse standing to his left was seen asking one of the corrections officers if he was ok, just before the officer fainted.” 
By all accounts, Marcus Wellons’s execution was routine, as those things go. He went to sleep and stopped breathing. But it was apparently not routine for the officer who fainted. The list of former prison wardens who, after retirement, talk about how painful it was to preside over executions, grows ever longer. For example, Don Cabana, who presided over executions in several states, eventually left prison work for academic life. “’There is a part of the warden that dies with his prisoner,” he often said.’” 
Asked to comment about the “botched” execution of Clayton Lockett, who died of a heart attack after prison personnel failed to insert an IV into his femoral vein, the retired prosecuting attorney said, “Did he get what he deserved? I don’t know, As I’ve gotten older, I’m a devout Christian, and I just have more and more trouble, honestly, of the question of ‘get what I deserve.’” 
Some of those involved in executions, then, admit their pain. For others, the execution seems to bring out the worst parts of their nature.
Recently, a Missouri prison employee told the lawyer for a prisoner facing execution that their client was in the top 1% of prisoners, and that he always obeyed rules and assisted new or weak prisoners to stay out of trouble. He would like to support clemency for him, but the prison administration discouraged him and started an investigation for “over-familiarity.” As a result, the employee withdrew his support.
Another troubling aspect of capital punishment is the response of victim families. A family member of the victims killed by John Ruthell Henry, recently executed in Florida, commented after watching the execution, “I actually feel good. I don’t feel sorry for him. . . . I wish it could've been different. I wish he could’ve died the way he killed them.” 
Or, as a victim family member who witnessed an Oklahoma execution where the prisoner, Scott Carpenter, “convulsed, clenched his jaw, made noises and his legs lifted,” put it, “Who knows whether he felt pain or not, but if he did endure a little pain again, so what? It’s in no way in comparison to what his victim felt.” 
These are a perfectly understandable responses, but, I submit, not particularly healthy ones. Does the fact that a loved one suffered pain really justify the desire to inflict pain on others?
Many victims long for answers from the person who killed their loved one; few get them. A man said that he watched the execution of his father’s killer, Scott Carpenter, “in hopes that he would make some comments or make some explanation. He robbed me of that as well. He was just quiet.”
Why do we persist in imposing a punishment that wounds us, troubles us, and brings out the worst in us?