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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail