Since its inception, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. has opposed the institution of capital punishment. Whether it is because the death penalty is mired in racial bias and disproportionality, or because almost 150 people have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, or because an astonishing number of capital cases are reversed for misconduct and other errors, or because the methods of execution have consistently been barbaric, LDF has always understood that the death penalty cannot be administered “fairly.” And three tragic events which took place in the last two weeks, underscore LDF’s conclusion:
1. On Wednesday, January 29th, the State of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls before the United States Supreme Court had the opportunity to rule on his request for a stay of execution.
2. Just over a week ago, the U.S. State Department issued a statement expressing “regret” over the execution of Edgar Tamayo Arias. Mr. Arias, a Mexican citizen, was executed by the State of Texas on January 22, 2014, over the objections of the State Department, the Mexican Government, a former Texas Governor, and Secretary of State John Kerry. It was knowingly carried out in knowing violation of the United States’ obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which required the Texas authorities to inform Mr. Arias that he could obtain legal assistance from the Mexican consulate after his arrest in the 1994 killing of a Houston police officer. Before the execution, Secretary of State John Kerry informed Texas that Mr. Arias’ execution “could impact the way American citizens are treated in other countries.” That warning was disregarded.
3. On January 16, 2014, death sentenced prisoner, Dennis McGuire suffered a torturous 15-minute long execution in Ohio, where his children watched him gasping for air as his body convulsed and writhed. Ohio, over the objections of Mr. McGuire’s counsel, insisted on carrying out this execution using a combination of drugs which had never before been tested because European-based drug manufacturers have forbade U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions.
Although death sentences and executions now take place with far less frequently than they did a decade ago, these events should serve to remind us all that each and every time the government takes a life in the name of justice, true justice is diminished. And, the more the states “tinker with the machinery of death,” the more apparent the perversion and inhumanity of state-sponsored executions becomes.