Comments on the Death Penalty
Interview with Kendall Coffey
CNN – October 31, 2007
Kendall Coffey: The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court right now is lethal injection. But many are properly seeing it as part of a broader attack on the death penalty. And the United States and the American Bar Association, on separate grounds entirely, came out yesterday asking for a moratorium throughout the country on the death penalty so that the basic fairness within which death penalty defendants are tried and judged is more carefully examined….
A horrifically botched execution. It’s occurred elsewhere. We have a love-hate relationship with the death-penalty. We see these despicable crimes; we want the maximum punishment applied to people who brutally kill children or to terrorists. At the same time we’re very concerned about mistakes being made; both mistakes with respect to selecting who is worthy of dying, if anyone, and mistakes with respect to the actual administration of execution and these kind of cases where horrible pains and horrible mistreatment occurs in the course of an execution, are very troubling to Americans and obviously of great concern to the United States Supreme Court…
Right now I think the rest of the country is basically standing back and saying, “The U.S. Supreme Court wants to hear this case in January in terms of looking at whether or not the way legal injection is administered constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So I think every state is going to hold back on capital punishment, at least with respect to lethal injection until the Supreme Court decides what to do. Theoretically, states could adopt other forms of execution. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think death penalty opponents, death penalty advocates, are going to be holding their breathe until the Supreme Court rules….
Well, that’s certainly part of the controversy, with respect to these last minute appeals of death row inmates, is waiting to the last minute. But the court has a much broader issue to look at. … And I think in January…They’re not going to focus on whether this particular death-row inmate was last minute or not. They’ve already indicated based on rulings they’ve made with respect to holding off other executions of other inmates; that this case has broad implications for death-row inmates across the country and I think what they want to know is whether the lethal injection process is being administered in a way that is unnecessarily cruel. There is pain when someone is put to death; but the question is whether there could be improvements in the training of people who do it. Remember doctors are not ethically allowed to be involved in putting people to death in this country through executions; so there are real questions about prison officials who are administering it. And at the same time, are the actual chemical ingredients something that need to be recalibrated to make sure there is a more humane way of accomplishing something that is inherently inhumane?……
Well, that is an odd but yet very realistic avenue. If the state doesn’t want to deal with the controversy over lethal injection – no court has ever held that electrocution in this country constitutes cruel and unusual punishment – and in the late 1800s, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there was nothing unconstitutional about the use of the firing squad.