Sentenced to Torture?

While Willie Jerome Manning awaits the completion of forensic evidence searches related to his 1992 case, he must be acutely aware of the threat of execution hanging over one of his fellow inmates, Charles Crawford. And Willie must be feeling greater anxiety than previously about forthcoming executions, because they now have greater potential for torture. As news reaches him about untried drug combinations from unregulated suppliers being used in other states, sometimes with horrifying results, the prospect of a similar experiment in Mississippi must be alarming.

The human rights organisation, Reprieve, explains how states previously obtained supplies of drugs from pharmaceutical companies. Such companies have policies of healing and saving lives; in recent years they have been following through these policies by refusing to sell drugs to USA states that wish to use them in lethal injections.

Democracy Now discusses the lengths to which states are prepared to go to continue carrying out executions. Raw pharmaceutical ingredients are secretly prepared at compounding pharmacies, using unregulated, variable procedures; using these for executions amounts to experimentation on human subjects. In other states this has already led to botched executions: in Ohio Dennis McGuire took a long time to suffocate to death, and in Oklahoma Michael Lee Wilson said as he was dying, “I feel my whole body burning”.

Jackson Free Press states the Mississippi Department of Corrections was forced by a lawsuit to reveal that the State is using a compounding pharmacy in Grenada, Mississippi. This pharmacy, H&W Compounding/Brister Brothers Pharmacy, markets non-prescription herbal supplements. It will be used to procure pentobarbital, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride for executions.

Associated Press in Gulf Live quotes Vanessa Carroll (an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center, which brought the lawsuit):

“We have no assurance that this compounded pentobarbital is sufficiently potent and effective. This is an enormous concern because pentobarbital is the first drug administered during a lethal injection, and if it fails to work properly, the prisoner will be suffocated to death by the paralytic agent that is given next, and may be conscious during the excruciating pain caused by the third drug, which causes death by cardiac arrest.”

Jim Craig, an attorney with the same firm, stated: “No one has sentenced … Mr. Crawford to be slowly suffocated to death and to have (his) internal organs burned while conscious of it. That’s not what (he was) sentenced to. (He wasn’t) sentenced to be tortured.”

The willingness to allow torture during executions seems to confirm the opinion of Bob Autobee, father of a murder victim in Colorado, when he said last month, “My life has improved immensely since meeting my son’s killer… The death penalty is a hate crime.”

With the revelations about the incompetence of the medical examiner, Steven Hayne,  the fiasco of Michelle Byrom’s near execution, and compelling questions about whether lethal injections constitute ‘cruel and unusual punishment’, the time is ripe for Mississippi to align with Bob Autobee’s view, and consign the death penalty to the past.


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