Reprieve and humane executions in the USA


Clive Stafford Smith’s Reprieve organisation is complaining about convicted murderers being executed with “Do It Yourself” drugs, but there is a speedy and “humane” alternative.

Clive Stafford Smith doing something intelligent for once. He is shown here at a London press conference in March 2009 campaiging against torture.

On November 13, Reprieve issued a press release to the effect that Pennsylvania is joining South Dakota in this practice, apparently because pharmaceutical manufacturers have bowed to pressure from anti-death penalty organisations. Last month, South Dakota executed Donald Moeller for the 1990 rape and murder of a young girl.

Pennsylvania has not executed anyone since 1999 (including cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal) but was scheduled to execute Hubert Michael on Thursday, November 8. However, he was granted a stay of execution with just six hours left.

In July 1993, Michael was on bail for rape, an allegation he denied. Aggrieved with this supposedly false allegation, he murdered Trista Eng, a total stranger, which is about as bizarre a rationalisation for murder as can be imagined. The girl was just 16 at the time; he enticed her into his car, tied her up, put a bag over her head, and shot her 3 times. Although he admitted to raping her as well, he wasn’t charged with this. Michael has now survived 3 death warrants, the others were in 1996 and 2004.

Does Hubert Michael deserve to die? Obviously not as much as Ted Bundy or Steven Hayes, but clearly no one wants to see him walking the streets again, and is it really more humane to keep a man locked up under maximum security for 40, 50 or more years with no hope of release than to execute him? Ian Brady doesn’t think so.

Convicted murderer Hubert Michael.

Whatever the pros and cons of this particular execution, the arguments advanced by Reprieve against it are as laughable as ever. Last year, the charity warned that execution was bad for people’s health. In this case, writing apparently before the stay was granted, Reprieve whined: “If the compounded anaesthetic doesn’t work effectively, Hubert will be paralysed by the second drug and remain conscious, unable to signal his distress as a massive overdoes [sic] of the third drug ‐ a powerful acid ‐ is injected into his veins”.

And if he could signal his distress...? They also say there are concerns about this particular drug’s efficacy. So they are worried a) that if may not kill Michael and b) that if it does, he will be unable to signal his distress. Hmm.

Assuming this execution is eventually given the green light, there is a very swift, humane way of carrying it out that is not only painless but sanctioned by two of the world’s great religions, ie it is both halal and Kosher.

Take a gander at this halal slaughterer at work. It takes only a second to sever the throat of even a large animal, and no time at all for it to die. In Saudi Arabia they go one better in their executions, hacking off the entire head with a sword, as may yet happen to Joselito Zapanta. Clive Stafford Smith would of course express extreme disapproval at this suggestion, but there can be little doubt that there are many people in the United States who would consider it an appropriate punishment for Hubert Michael, and who would argue that it should have been carried out in 1996 after he was convicted of a senseless, barbaric and heinous murder of a totally innocent teenage girl on overwhelming evidence.

[The above op-ed was first published November 18. 2012; the original wasn’t archived.]

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