There's a bill in the legislature - once again - to ban the crude and barbaric practice of capital punishment... it is said to have a better chance this year than usual...Here's our post from September 2010 when the last human being was put to death by the state of Washington.
Murderer Cal Coburn Brown will die by lethal injection Friday in Walla Walla by 1 ayem, barring legal intervention; it's the first execution in Washington since 2001.
We witnessed the one in 2001; it was our fifth.
Here, in part, is a BlatherWatch post from December, 2005:
I'm passionately against the death penalty (so passionate I'm eschewing the "royal we," I usually use in this blog).
I was a media witness to the last execution in Washington State and watched the pathetic little death of a pathetic little man named James Homer Elledge who'd killed a couple of nice church ladies in the basement of a Lynnwood Methodist church where he'd worked as a janitor.
I covered it for the Seattle Weekly and Agence France-Presse, a French international wire service who's always hungry for the gory details of American barbarity.
Elledge was deeply disturbed and so ridden with sick Christian guilt, he refused to mount a defense.
It was state-supervised suicide.
I plotz with Christians over the death penalty. The biggest bunch of them, the Roman Catholics, are institutionally against it. That's why Europeans made it illegal long ago- not because they're a bunch of godless socialists as you hear on talk radio- but because they were (are) Catholics following the moral leadership of their church.
(Evangelical, born-again, fundamentalist Christians, (different names for the same orthodoxy) follow the vengeful Old Testament legalism of an eye-for-an eye (agreeing with Moslems, BTW) even though they sentence the Jews to hell for denying the New Testament, which is the Old Testament, The Sequel, starring Jesus. To make it even more conundrumatic, and confusing- most Jews we know agree with the Catholics. Others more orthodox, we hear, do not. The dwindling mainline Protestant brands like Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans agree with the Catholics, and the Reformed Jews. Of course, there are exceptions within each and everyone of these congregations. It just goes to show you: religionists are really hard to understand).
My dad, a Republican legislator in the 1950's, helped pass the bill outlawing capital punishment in Washington State. It stood until the US Supreme Court declared all capital punishment unconstitutional in 1972. Boy, those 1950's were the days! Redemption was a Christian family value, and Republicans were compassionate. Hard to imagine, no? (And it was too good to be true: The Supremes re-allowed it in 1976, the US joining such national role models of justice as Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China and Yemen).
Today, Dori Monson (KIRO m-f, 12-3p) made jokes about Tookie [Williams, just executed in CA] "getting nookie" and we heard listeners all over the dial opine that the big thug never deserved a trial in the first place.
(The festive vengeance today wasn't so different than the glee I saw in Lagos, Nigeria in 1972 after a Sunday afternoon firing squad dispatched 4 criminals in a soccer stadium before thousands in their Sunday best. It was a picnic event, everybody got drunk and spit on the bound prisoners both before and after they were shot down. Little boys came up, put lit cigarettes into the mouths of the corpses and posed with arms around them for tourist photos. I love the human race!).
The execution I saw in Walla Walla in 2001 was quite different. It was clinical and actually boring. It was such a non-event, I felt myself wanting more. It was if I'd paid for Terminator II, and got the Little Mermaid instead. From The Weekly:
WE SAT ON THE EDGES of our seats like kids waiting for a puppet show. Then the curtain went up, revealing the shitty little room with its exposed electrical conduits, elevated now to the dramatic status of "death chamber."
A small one-way glass window behind Elledge's head concealed the anonymous "injection team." These "licensed medical practitioners" are chosen by prison superintendent John Lambert, their identities known only to him.
Elledge lay on his back on the old wooden gurney. The clear plastic intravenous lines coming out of the wall behind him led to catheters stuck in his arms under a dark blue sheet covering him feet to chin. His arms sat on rests angled away from his sides, hands completely covered with black tape.
With his eyes and mouth closed, he looked already dead. His scraggly beard was shaved, leaving one of those bushy 1970s mustaches favored by cops. His thin, graying hair was combed forward and looked blow-dried; his skin appeared very white. He was laid out like a corpse at a mortuary viewing.
Lambert, a balding man in shirtsleeves, came out and said hurriedly into a microphone, "Inmate Elledge has no last words."
There's more drama in putting down a dog, anesthetizing a frog, or salting a slug than there was in watching this human die.
I stared at his chest with the dark sheet against the light wall to detect a breath. I saw no movement. Some reporters said they saw a breath, some said an eyebrow twitched; we all saw his jaw relax and mouth open. The first drug, two grams of thiopental, a sedative, was so massive that even if they had stopped the other chemicals, it would have been over. Then came a load of pancuronium bromide, which paralyzed him from the neck down; finally, potassium chloride stopped his heart. In these amounts, any one of these drugs would be fatal. They wanted to prevent a "Rasputin phenomenon," an uncomfortable situation named after the mad monk who wouldn't die.
We witnessed very little. There was no beginning, and we knew it was over only when the curtain fell and Veltry Johnson told us Elledge had been pronounced dead at 12:52 a.m.
I felt ripped off. It seemed a mockery of the witness requirement--we were supposed to view the alleged humanity of this process, but we had no real access to it. His attorney had left him at 11 p.m. For all we know, in the next hour and a half he could have changed his mind, tried to stop his execution, been wrestled down by guards, had a needle stuck in his arm to shut him up, and then been laid out for us to "witness."
I HAVE NO REASON to think this scenario happened--nor that this Department of Corrections is evil. But I can't say that about Texas, Florida, or some future DOC. The awesome power given the state, with so much secret discretion in this life-and-death duty, is for me the overriding argument against capital punishment. Even if the judicial process could somehow be made perfectly just and fair, the power to put to death should not be in human hands.
This execution took place as a new discussion was starting in America about the death penalty. There'd just been a moratorium on executions declared by Governor Ryan in Illinois after law students had sprung scores of death row inmates who they found were mistakenly accused or convicted.
There was great hope and expectation that the American people, who polled at some 70% for the death penalty, may be cycling around to that compassionate place where my father and his peers had been in 1959.
It was not to be. 9-11 happened the following week; the nation saw blood on the moon and suddenly it was wartime and the suffix 'compassionate' was scratched off George W. Bush's self-description and replaced with 'neo.'
Maybe the tide has started to turn once more as our country has grown sick with this is war. But from what we heard today on the radio, we're not making book on it.
Reading: John Grisham's non-fictional The Innocent Man, about the cases that turned the conservative attorney/novelist against the death penalty.