What do you consider a more cruel and unusual punishment; death by lethal injection, electrocution or firing squad? These are the three execution methods approved in the state of Oklahoma. But, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Kentucky after two death row inmates claim lethal injection is too harsh.
Taylor Stein, former Comanche County District Judge, does not think the justices will put an end to lethal injection as an execution method. He even doubts that's really what the case is about.
As a former prosecutor and judge, Stein has seen his fair share of capital murder cases, and the controversy surrounding ultimate punishment. And, appeals by the two Kentucky death row inmates comes as no surprise to him. "The real story here is a lot of people oppose the death penalty period," he says.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it as an acceptable punishment for capital murder in 1976, Oklahoma jumped on board and took it a step further by becoming the first state to introduce the lethal injection method.
"The methodology for execution, I don't think it's cruel, but it has improved over the years and that standard is now set and that standard is not going to go the other direction," says Stein. And, of course, if lethal injection is considered cruel and unusual, what about the alternatives? "That would lend credence or credibility to even more arguments that maybe shooting, hanging or electrocution are also cruel and unusual."
Local Defense Attorney Clay Hillis sees the court's decision to hear the case as a housekeeping measure for Federal Circuit Courts. "They wouldn't want a rule in the 10th circuit that is significantly different in the 9th or 8th circuit and so we have prisoners who get different treatment under federal law depending on where they live," he says.
Hillis doesn't think the court will nix lethal injection, but once they rule on it, it becomes the law of the land. And, that leaves no room for interpretation by the lower or state courts. "They could just say everything's fine, let's keep it the way it is, just so they can say they looked at it," Hillis says.
One of the main arguments against lethal injection is that prisoners are not given enough anesthetic before the drugs that paralyze their muscles and stop their hearts are administered. The Kentucky inmates claim that it can cause excruciating pain. But, the court's decision to hear the case did not stop the State of Texas from executing a man by using lethal injection on Tuesday night.