Extremity of Torture

Richard Glossip came close to execution in Oklahoma twice last month. The first time, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals granted him a stay to allow his lawyers to submit new evidence; but his ensuing appeal was quickly rejected by that court and the US Supreme Court. The second time he was already stripped to his underwear, ready to go into the execution chamber, when a doctor realized that one of the drugs was wrong. This was the third execution date that Glossip had been given this year, and the closest that he came to facing death; not surprisingly, the stress is evident. A fourth execution date was set for 37 days later – the prospect of another agony of waiting to be killed. Thankfully, this was overturned today – there will be no more executions in Oklahoma this year  – but the likelihood of execution in the future remains real.

Willie Manning in Mississippi had ‘only’ one brush with execution, and that not quite as close as Glossip’s.  But Willie’s one experience has scarred him: he has had difficulty orientating himself to cope with the immediate threats of death row and the anxiety that he might again have to endure the stress of awaiting a shameful, possibly painful, unwarranted execution. He has an insight that most of us, thankfully, will never have into Glossip’s predicament; he is more aware than most of the extremity of Glossip’s torture.

Glossip was saved this time by the drugs fiasco. His predecessor on the execution schedule, Charles Warner, was less ‘fortunate’: an autopsy has shown that the same wrong drug (potassium acetate, substituted in error for potassium chloride) was actually administered to him. This is exactly the kind of shambles predicted by defense lawyers in Oklahoma and other states, where new secrecy laws prevent attorneys and the public from knowing if procedures are being followed.

In Mississippi, executions were halted in August by a federal judge; events in Oklahoma have proved him right to rein in the state’s enthusiasm for executions, to prevent Mississippi using outlawed drugs.

Like Willie’s, Glossip’s claim of innocence is compelling: he was convicted on the word of a murderer, who varied his story many times and was rewarded with a sentence of life without parole instead of death. Unlike Willie, though, Glossip cannot point to DNA or fingerprint evidence to prove his innocence; so the drug issue is crucial in giving his lawyers valuable time. We can only hope that more exculpatory evidence is found.

A system that tolerates the predicament of Richard Glossip and Willie Manning – torture based on “a flagrantly unjust outcome for which no one person [can be held] responsible” – is rotten to the core. It needs to end.

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