Commentary: Disgraceful Executions

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, December 29, 2006

To evaluate dueling arguments on both sides of California’s death penalty debate, US District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel went to the death house at San Quentin to see how the state carries out its ultimate punishment. He called his findings “deeply disturbing,” with good reason.

He found that the state’s gas chamber has been jury-rigged to serve as the execution site for lethal injections. Holes drilled in the chamber walls accommodate intravenous lines through which lethal drugs flow into the condemned prisoners’ veins. The drugs are held in bags suspended from hooks hung so high, Fogel said, it’s impossible for the execution team to know whether the equipment is working properly.

The team itself is untrained in the administration of drugs, including anesthetics, that are supposed to render the condemned prisoner unconscious before excruciatingly painful lethal drugs are dispensed. The judge learned one team member had been disciplined for smuggling illegal drugs into the prison. So why is he still working there?

Whether you support or oppose the death penalty – and for the record, I’m personally opposed - the way California carries it out is disgraceful, and as Judge Fogel found, probably unconstitutional. Before the state executes another person, that needs to be fixed.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.