Monday, February 7, 2011

Professor: Firing Squad Most Humane Form of Execution

Deborah W. Denno, a law professor at Fordham University and an expert on the death penalty told the New York Times the most humane way to carry out the death penalty is through the use of a firing squad.

Denno's opinion is interesting in light of the shortage of sodium theopental. The default method of execution in all thirty-five states with the death penalty is lethal injection. In thirty-three states executions are carried out using a three-drug protocol. In Ohio and Washington state the department of corrections uses a single drug protocol. Thirty-three states use sodium theopental. Oklahoma and now Ohio have moved away from sodium theopental and now use pentobarbital. Ohio is the only state planning to use a single dose of pentobarbital.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 35(2008) found that lethal injection did not violate the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual treatment. With continued concern about the manufacture, or availability from international sources, of sodium theopental and pentobarbital will states begin to look at alternative methods of execution.

Denno told the Times one method that is quick, effective, affordable and does not depend on Europe: the firing squad. Since 1976, a firing squad has been used only three times, all in Utah. Although the state changed its death penalty law in 2004 to require lethal injection, it allowed Ronnie Lee Gardner — who was convicted of murder in 1985, when the firing squad was still used — to choose it. He was shot to death last June.

“It’s the most humane procedure,” Denno told the Times. “It’s only because of this Wild West notion that people are against it.”

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