A Botched Lethal Injection Won't Change Anyone's Mind About Capital Punishment

The death penalty is only slightly less popular than it was last year, despite three very public botched executions and concerns over "cruel and unusual" punishment. 

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The death penalty is only slightly less popular than it was last year, despite three very public botched executions and concerns over "cruel and unusual" punishment. That's because with many death penalty supporters, their belief in capital punishment is unshaken by the inadequacies of the lethal injection. 

This week a federal appeals court judge argued that, to prevent executions from being "cruel and unusual," we should just move to a more efficient form of execution, like firing squads. And the family of Wood's victims echoed an opinion shared by 60 percent of Americans: people sentenced to death "deserve it." As the polls show, people's sense of justice goes beyond Eighth Amendment rights

On Monday a federal appeals court judge argued that executions are "brutal, savage events," we should return to firing squads this week, days before Joseph Rudolph Wood took over 90 minutes to die by lethal injection. Alex Kozinski, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court Chief Judge, argued for shooting squads on Monday in his dissent against a 9th Circuit panel's decision to grant Wood an injunction on July 19. The panel concluded that Wood had "raised serious questions as to the merits of his First Amendment claim" and granted him a temporary stay until the state told him what drugs would be used to kill him. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, Kozinski didn't agree with Wood's First Amendment argument. While he supports the death penalty, he said he's against lethal injections and the constitutional challenges they've raise recently. "I personally think we should go to the guillotine, but shooting is probably the right way to go," Kozinski said, adding that it's "messy, but effective." He made his comments before Wednesday's execution.

More importantly, Kozinski argued that Americans shouldn't shy away from the face that capital punishment is brutal. In his dissent, published Monday, he wrote:

Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions ... But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.

The data shows that people are willing to face that fact. As The Washington Post noted, public support for the death penalty has only declined slightly this year, despite a series of botched executions. Gallup has seen no change in support for the death penalty. Frank Newport, Gallup's editor-in-chief, argued that "the fact that the killer suffered for one or two hours more at the end may not affect those underlying attitudes," he told The Post. "That's the whole idea."

In Arizona, the relatives of the victim were not affected by the length of the execution. Wood brutally murdered his estranged girlfriend and her father, Debbie Dietz and Gene Dietz,  in an auto shop in Tuscon. The woman's sister, Jeanne Brown, said the execution was the end of a painful experience, according to the Associated Press. "Nobody sees the real picture of what took place in the last 25 years," she said. "Everyone is more worried about: Did he suffer? Who really suffered is my dad and my sister, when they [were] killed." Her husband Andrew added that everyone is worried about the drugs, but "these people that do this, they deserve to suffer a little bit." 

That's what people against the death penalty — in all its forms — are up against. Some people think lethal injection should just be replaced, and others have less sympathy for those convicted of murder. The fact that public support for the death penalty hasn't changed in the last year reflects that.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.