John Raffles

Boston bomber sentenced to death. But can they find the right drugs to kill him?

The Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was today sentenced to death by lethal injection. The jury reached the decision in the city where the killer, 19 at the time, blew up the marathon, killing three and injuring 260.

I feel no sympathy for him, but nor do I support the death penalty and I’m constantly amazed by the hash the US authorities make of a method of execution that sounds simple. Here is a list of 46 botched executions since 1982. This one from last year almost defies belief in its amateurishness:

April 29, 2014. Oklahoma. Clayton D Lockett. Lethal Injection. Despite prolonged litigation and numerous warnings from defence attorneys about the dangers of using an experimental drug protocol (including a paralytic), Oklahoma went ahead and scheduled the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner. Plans for the execution and the drugs used were cloaked in secrecy, with the state refusing to release information about the source and efficacy of the lethal drugs, making it impossible to accurately predict the effects of the combination of drugs. Nonetheless, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallon pressured the Courts to allow the execution, a bill was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives to impeach the Justices who had voted to stay the execution, and the state Supreme Court allowed the executions to go forward.

Mr Lockett was the first who was scheduled to die. An hour before the execution began, the governor was notified that the executioner (a ‘phlebotomist’) was having problems finding a usable vein, but she did not intervene. After an hour, a vein was finally found in Mr Lockett’s ‘groin area’, and the execution went forward. Ten minutes after the administration of the first drug, a sedative, the physician supervising the process (whose very presence violated ethical standards of several medical organisations) announced that the inmate was unconscious, and therefore ready to receive the other two drugs that would actually kill him.

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