Home » Uncategorized » No pusherman = no problem for death-penalty states

No pusherman = no problem for death-penalty states

A few weeks ago, I had expressed skepticism that logistical difficulties surrounding the administration of lethal injection might cause the de facto abolition of the death penalty. Shortages of drugs comprising the prevailing three-drug protocol, I argued, would not jeopardize capital punishment because states sufficiently motivated to maintain the practice would find either alternative drugs or alternative methods of execution. This week, we got one from Column A and one from Column B.

First, from Ohio:

Dennis McGuire took 15 minutes to die by lethal injection Thursday morning at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville for the 1989 rape and murder of a 22-year-old pregnant woman named Joy Stewart….Mr. McGuire was given midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a powerful analgesic derived from morphine, just before 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, the first time that any state has used that combination. The drugs were selected by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction after the state’s supply of pentobarbital expired in 2009, said JoEllen Smith, the department’s spokeswoman.


A reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, one of the witnesses at the execution,described Mr. McGuire as struggling, gasping loudly, snorting and making choking noises for nearly 10 minutes before falling silent and being declared dead a few minutes later. An Associated Press report described him as snorting loudly and making snoring noises, but did not say he struggled or made choking sounds.


“Whether there were choking sounds or it was just snorting, the execution didn’t go the way it was supposed to go,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School and an expert in lethal injection cases. “Usually, lethal injection takes about four or five minutes, if done properly.”

Will the circumstances of McGuire’s execution cause states to rethink their reliance on experimental methods of administering lethal injections? Only if policymakers care more about preventing death-row inmates from suffering needlessly than they do about the considerations that lead them to support the death penalty in the first place. Until legislators get tossed from office for being too supportive of capital punishment, we should expect to see them follow Ohio’s lead and use whatever drug combinations they can find to carry out executions.

Second, let’s fire up the flux capacitor and see what retro-goodness the Missouri legislature has in store:

Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin (R) is proposing legislation that would allow death row inmates to choose a firing squad as their means of execution….


States have been struggling to acquire the drugs required to perform lethal injections in a manner that is neither “cruel” nor “unusual.”

Missouri has executed two inmates in recent months using pentobarbital, but the drug comes from a compounding pharmacy in Oklahoma that isn’t licensed to do business in Missouri….


One solution is to return to firing squads, which are a constitutionally approved means of execution. They are also, as an advocate of a similar bill in Wyoming notes, “one of the cheapest.”

Admittedly, a firing squad gives the condemned an opportunity to trash-talk his or her executioners in a way that being hooked up to a needle just doesn’t offer. And there’s a good chance that the bill won’t go anywhere, so perhaps it’s wise not to overreact. But the fact that legislators are seeking to bring back execution methods of yore (not the guillotine yet, though perhaps I’m being too hasty in dismissing this possibility) demonstrates the lengths that death penalty advocates will go to in the service of maintaining capital punishment.



  1. […] simply “don’t do.” Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s actions lend support to my earlier expectation that shortages of drugs comprising the standard lethal-injection protocol would not cause (blood-) […]

  2. […] cases returns to center stage not just Clayton Lockett’s agonizing botched execution, but all lethal injections that looked like his. Death-penalty states have worked very hard to safeguard their practices from public scrutiny; as […]

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