FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Witness to an Execution

by BARBARA BECNEL

Federal Judge Jeremy Fogel is conducting hearings in San Jose this week to examine California’s lethal injection procedure. The intended outcome of these hearings is to determine whether condemned prisoners in this State are being properly anesthetized so that they do not experience excruciating pain during executions. Execution protocols that provoke extraordinary pain violate the U.S. Constitution’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment of prisoners.

This challenge was brought before the court by lawyers for condemned prisoner Michael Morales. Morales was scheduled to be killed in February 2006 but was saved when State officials were unable to meet new conditions set by Judge Fogel involving medical professionals’ participation in the execution process. The judge wanted to ensure that prisoners stay asleep as they are being poisoned, given that the investigation of recent executions shows Stanley Tookie Williams, killed by the State on December 13, 2005, likely died a slow and very painful death.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger considers such an effort on the part of Judge Fogel as no more than the federal court having “interjected itself into the details of the state’s execution process.”

While I appreciate Judge Fogel’s willingness to consider such challenges to California’s killing process, I already know the truth of what prison officials did to Stanley Tookie Williams on December 13th. I know how he suffered because I saw Stan die in San Quentin State Prison’s death chamber and it was the most horrific experience of my life-and no doubt the most horrible for Stan.

It began as I awaited the killing of Stan, when prison guards told me that “the whole thing”-the execution of my friend-would only take a few minutes.

It took a total of 35 minutes, during which Stan was tortured virtually every second before he stopped breathing.

Stan’s so-called quick and painless death was first botched when it took 25 minutes and many needle “probes” into Stan’s arm to find a viable vein for the insertion of a lethal cocktail of three different drugs.

Stan’s death process was botched again when Stan most certainly awakened after being put to sleep by the first drug. I say that because I saw Stan’s body writhe in pain and desperation-though he wasn’t supposed to be able to move at all after the second drug, pancuronium bromide, a paralyzing agent, was administered. That drug did prevent him from crying out, opening his eyes and flailing his arms so that we, the witnesses to his death, would not be made uncomfortable by the discomfort of a dying man in terrible pain.

But during the “humane” execution, as advertised by the State, Stan’s stomach heaved so mightily that it distorted itself, as he apparently awakened to the terror of slowly suffocating to death from lungs that could no longer move and to agonizing pain caused by a third drug that induces a heart attack.

I walked into the death chamber praying to God to save Stan. I prayed that the phone would ring, that the execution would be stopped. But as I watched Stan suffer, as I watched his 250-pound body contort so that his rib cage looked as if it belonged to someone dying of starvation, I begin to pray that God would take Stan right away by speeding up his death, to stop him from being tortured by the State of California.

President George W. Bush recently stated that “the United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values.” But what happened to Stanley Tookie Williams on December 13, 2005, was, in fact, torture and does reflect our true values.

An execution is the planned murder of another human being. The 35-minute scenario of torture that occurred during Stan’s “civil” ritual of death was just an extra dose of inhumanity. If prevailing public sentiment supports-or is even indifferent to-the torture-murder of any one of us, then we are allowing ourselves to be dominated by vengeance, not justice; by cruelty, not compassion; by barbarism, not morality.

I was a witness to an execution. I saw close-up the “details of the state execution process,” as minimized by Governor Schwarzenegger’s comment. But those mere “details,” from the Governor’s point of view, are now my forever nightmare.

Judge Fogel’s hearings will provide Californians with an opportunity to look at facts that reveal the gap between our idealized values and our reality: people are being periodically tortured to death at San Quentin. What are we going to do about that?

BARBARA BECNEL was Stanley Tookie Williams’ advocate, co-author and editor. Portions of this article first appeared in The New Abolitionist, September 2006.

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail