The Day in Death

It took 33 years, and a final delay of several hours, but this evening, the Sunshine State permanently blotted out the light for Manuel Valle in revenge for the murder of Coral Gables Police Officer Loouis Pena. There were hurdles to overcome. Florida wanted to use, planned to use, in fact did use, pentobarbital as the first drug in its murder sequence, the one that’s supposed to put the guy they’re killing into a coma. But there were problems.

Lundbeck, the manufacturer, has tried to control its distribution so that states cannot obtain it for their murders. (Search the blog archives; I’ve written about this several times.) No problem there. Florida got its supply. But maybe it doesn’t work so well. When Georgia used it to murder Roy Blankenship in June, it seemed not to put him out. Eyewitness accounts of the execution show that Blankenship grimaced, gasped, lifted his head, mouthed words, made swallowing motions, and had his eyes open. Those are all signs that he wasn’t in a coma. Dr. David Waisel, an Anesthesiologist who reviewed Blankenship’s killing said that the pentobarbital seemed not to work. And since it didn’t . . . . Well, here are his words. Mr. Blankenship’s execution further evidences that during judicial lethal injections in Georgia there is a substantial risk of serious harm such that condemned inmates are significantly likely to face extreme, torturous and needless pain and suffering. Hell, even Lundbeck says it’s going to be unreliable as a killing drug. The use of pentobarbital outside of the approved labelling has not been established. As such Lundbeck cannot assure the safety and efficacy profiles in such instances. And then there’s federal law. Pentobarbital is a controlled substance that can only be dispensed pursuant to a prescription from a physician. And under the Controlled Substances Act, prescriptions for controlled substances may only be written for legitimate medical purposes. State murder is not (and nobody argues otherwise) a medical purpose. OK, the feds haven’t enforced that law. But Florida could. And so Dr. David Nicholl filed a lawsuit. Which was, of course, dismissed. But then on to Washington. Valle was denied his consular rights under the Vienna Convention, a matter which in the case of Humberto Leal Garcia attracted a lot of attention and, at least for a while, some traction. Not enough, ultimately, to keep Texas from killing him, but a lot. Valle, not so much. But there was that 33 years thing. Thirty-three years of trials and retrials. Thirty-three years of trips up and down the court system while Florida worked to get him sentenced in a legally adequate fashion. Thirty-three years of waiting. Which Justice Breyer said might well be so cruel and unusual as to violate the Constitution. And regardless, they should take the time to answer the question. Apparently nobody else agreed. So they killed him. * * * * * They didn’t kill Gaile Owens. They were supposed to. Tennessee had it all planned out. Strap her down, stick in a couple of needles, pump poison. It was set for September 28 last year. Except that on July 14, the anniversary of the day they emptied the Bastille, Governor Bredesen commuted her sentence to life. Not the usual life sentence. Not LWOP. This was life with the possibility of parole. And today (really, yesterday since I’m writing this well after midnight), Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole said enough is enough. And granted her parole. She should be out within three weeks or so. * * * * * “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege,” sniffed Whitmire in a terse Thursday letter to prisons chief Brad Livingston. “I have yielded to TDCJ judgment in the past, but now enough is enough.” That’s John Whitmire quotede in the Houston Chronicle. He’s chair of the Criminal Justice Committee of the Texas Senate. What he’s steamed about is the meal Larry Brewer ordered before Texas killed him the other day. Two chicken-fried steaks. Cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, and bell and jalapeno peppers. Fried okra with ketchup. Triple-meat bacon cheeseburger Three fajitas. A pound of barbecue Half a loaf of white bread. Meat lover’s pizza. A pint of “homemade vanilla” Blue Bell ice cream. A slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Three root beers. OK, it’s a lot. Especially since he didn’t eat it. And never again, it would seem. Right after Whitmire promised to pass legislation prohibiting last meals, the Livingston said he’d cut them out. From now on, the soon-to-be departed eat what all the other prisoner’s eat. Because we can’t go around mollycoddling those guys. Hundreds of years of Anglo-American tradition tossed. 87 years of Texas practice abandoned. And anyhow, Crockett restaurant owner and former death row “chef” Brian Price suggested the senator’s complaints were grossly inflated because inmates rarely get extravagant meals they order. “They only get items in the commissary kitchen,” he said. “If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three. … Whitmire’s just getting on a political soapbox.” But it’s Texas. And we’re gonna kill ’em.

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