Some measures Texas employs in capital punishment not really sane

Posted Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders The more I think about executions in Texas, and the extent to which this state will go in order to kill someone, the more insane I find the very idea of capital punishment.

Before I talk about the latest case of absurdity involving a Texas Death Row inmate from Tarrant County, let me remind you of two other instances in which the state’s actions seemed beyond ludicrous.

In 1999 inmate David Long, convicted of killing three women in Lancaster, attempted to commit suicide two days before his scheduled execution. He had taken an overdose of prescribed antidepressants, and authorities rushed him to a hospital in Galveston for treatment.

Doctors were able to save his life, but because of his condition, his attorneys tried to get the execution postponed. The Dallas trial judge denied that request.

The state flew Long back to Huntsville, took him to the death chamber and inserted needles into his arms to begin the execution process. The horrific scene, as described by Associated Press reporter Michael Graczyk, was so distressing that it caused one of the witnesses to leave the viewing room.

“A few seconds after the drugs began taking effect, [Long] snorted and began gurgling,” Graczyk reported. “A blackish-brown liquid spouted from his nose and mouth and dribbled to the floor.”

The reporter said prison officials’ explanation was that “Long had vomited a charcoal solution administered at the hospital to neutralize the toxicity of the drugs he took in his suicide attempt.”

The state had saved a man’s life so that it could kill him. How crazy is that?

Long, who was the 32nd person to be executed in the state that year, was not the first Death Row inmate in Texas to be saved just in time to be killed.

Two years earlier, David Lee Herman tried to kill himself by slashing his wrist and throat with a plastic razor. After spending three hours in the hospital having his wounds stitched, he was returned to his cell and executed the next day.

Now to a current case involving an inmate from a Tarrant County case who is so mentally ill that he hurts himself by banging his head against walls, is sometimes found covered in feces and urine and has worn a bald spot in his head by lying long periods in a catatonic state, according to the Texas Tribune.

Steven Staley, convicted of killing Fort Worth restaurant manager Robert Read, is a paranoid schizophrenic who suffers severe delusions.

Because of his state, and because he will not take prescribed medication, he is not “competent” to be executed.

The Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute the mentally ill — someone who doesn’t understand why they’re being put to death.

State District Judge Wayne Salvant ordered that Staley be forcibly medicated for his mental illness as a way to make him competent for execution and also to prevent him from harming himself, the Tribune said.

Well, last week the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, on a 5-4 vote, ruled the judge did not have the authority to force medication for Staley, a decision prosecutors object to but haven’t decided whether they will appeal.

The argument is that Tarrant County jurors wanted Staley executed and, by God (or by drugs), he ought to be killed.

What really ought to happen, as one law professor suggested to the Tribune, is Staley’s sentence should be commuted to life in prison. It not only would be the most humane but also the most cost-effective solution, considering the amount of money already spent on years of appeals, the professor notes.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Too many people in this state are bent on carrying out the barbaric practice of putting others to death, no matter the measures that have to be taken to achieve that.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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