Capital Punishment in Crisis with Dahlia Lithwick

May 27, 2014

Host: Lindsay Beyerstein

This week, Point of Inquiry welcomes Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor and Legal Correspondent for Slate, where she writes the "Supreme Court Dispatches" and "Jurisprudence" columns. Her legal commentary won her a National Magazine Award in 2013. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and she joins Lindsay Beyerstein to talk about the crisis facing capital punishment in the United States.

Almost all executions in the United States are performed by lethal Injection but America's go-to lethal injection drug cocktail is rapidly becoming obsolete because a key component is no longer readily available. States have been reduced to scrounging drugs from unregulated bulk pharmacies and experimenting with secret and untested mixtures of medications, a practice that may amount to cruel and unusual punishment. 

On May 21, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Russell Bucklew of Missouri, just two hours before he was scheduled to be executed for the murder of Michael Sanders. Bucklew suffers from a condition called cavernous hemangioma, which means that his brain is a swamp of blood-vessel based tumors where drugs could pool or leak during a lethal injection. Bucklew's lawyers argued that Missouri's secret lethal execution protocol risked causing their client an agonizing death. They cited the example of Clayton Lockett, an Oklahoma inmate who took 43 minutes to die last month, during a botched execution, a death so horrific that the State of Oklahoma suspended executions pending an investigation. 

Lithwick and Beyerstein discuss immediate practical crisis of capital punishment, as well as the larger moral and legal issues surrounding the death penalty. 

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

"When the Death Penalty Turns Into Torture," by Dahlia Lithwick.
"How to Abolish the Death Penalty," by Boer Deng and Dahlia Lithwick.
"Troy Davis: Will Uncertainty In His Case Lead to Uncertainty About the Death Penalty?," by Dahlia Lithwick.

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