I slept fitfully Wednesday night after Texas’s Herculean and ultimately successful efforts to execute Jonathan Green on the appointed day.
One of the most troubling aspects of the event was the intense personal involvement of some of our nation’s finest legal minds.
Lawyers in the attorney general’s office in Austin toiled late to compose counter-briefs while, 1,300 miles away, Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court burned the midnight oil to give instant consideration to a barrage of last-minute appeals by Green’s attorney, James Rytting. The high court ultimately rejected them all in time for Texas to beat its midnight deadline to execute Green.
Death warrants authorizing Texas prison officials to kill a prisoner typically expire at midnight.
“It’s hurting me bad,” Green cried out from the gurney in Huntsville as he looked at the intravenous needle in his left arm. The drugs began to flow around 10:30 p.m. – four and a half hours after the 6 p.m. execution time. Eighteen minutes later, he was dead.
Had the justices not ruled so quickly, Green would still be alive today, though in all likelihood his execution would have been rescheduled for a later date and carried out.
So why did I feel so sickened, I wondered, by the intensity of coordinated effort required to carry out his execution on the intended date?
Then I flashed on the last nation to become famous for using its considerable brain power to deal death efficiently.
The United States is far from becoming the Third Reich, but the spectacle accompanying Green’s execution convinced me that the death penalty is harmful not just to the condemned but also to the nation that uses it.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said, “The calculated killing of a human being by the state involves, by its very nature, an absolute denial of the executed person’s humanity.”
I worry where our country is bound as, execution by execution, we move away from, rather than toward, a fuller recognition of each citizen’s humanness.
Elizabeth Ann Stein is the producer and co-founder of Execution Watch on the nonprofit Pacifica Radio Network’s flagship station KPFT FM 90.1 Houston.