When Michael Anthony Taylor kidnapped 15-year-old Ann Harrison while she was waiting for her school bus, then raped and brutally murdered her, he didn’t seem to care about the pain and agony she suffered at his hand. But now that Taylor has been convicted and sentenced to capital punishment by lethal injection, he’s suddenly concerned with how much pain he might feel at his deserved death.
Taylor claims that Missouri’s triple-chemical process of lethal injection exposes him to a risk that if he is not sufficiently unconscious he could feel pain but be unable to indicate so. (If this is where I am supposed to feel sorry for Taylor, I’m sorry, but I don’t.) Taylor argued to the federal courts, and will soon argue to the Supreme Court, that this chance of pain constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But Taylor obviously knows what it means to inflict cruel and unusual punishment, and a mere chance of pain is not enough for him to avoid an immediate execution.
The Supreme Court’s decision to hear Taylor’s case is already causing other states to scramble. In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley, in a knee-jerk reaction, stayed the execution of Thomas Douglas Arthur, who was supposed to die on Sept. 27 for a 1982 murder-for-hire. Arthur was convicted of shooting Troy Wicker through the eye as his victim slept. While we will never know whether Wicker suffered pain in his death, Gov. Riley is changing Alabama’s execution protocol to make sure murderers like Arthur slip peacefully and painlessly away under the watchful and monitoring eyes of state doctors and officials.
The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment” was never meant to preclude the death penalty or pain associated therewith. Hanging, electrocution and death by firing squad have all been used in our country to carry out capital punishment. Anti-death penalty activists have successfully convinced legislatures in recent years to reject such forms of capital punishment in favor of the seemingly more “humane” method of lethal injection. Now their latest attack on the death penalty is to oppose even lethal injection on the basis that the procedure might possibly cause pain.
This slow and steady march away from capital punishment began when the U.S. Supreme Court stated in Trop v. Dulles (1958) that the meaning of “cruel and unusual punishment” can change with “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” These so-called “evolving standards” conveniently serve as the beginning of the end of the death penalty for liberals who feel that “progress” in a “maturing society” is only achieved when the country is forced to adopt their views (and those of the United Nations) that capital punishment must be abolished altogether.
The basis for capital punishment in our law was clearly stated by Sir William Blackstone in his “Commentaries on the Laws of England” in 1765:
With regard to offences mala in se [inherently wrong], capital punishments are in some instances inflicted by the immediate command of God himself to all mankind; as, in the case of murder, by the precept delivered to Noah … “whoso sheddeth man’s blood … by man shall his blood be shed.”
Our Founding Fathers recognized in the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution, ratified with the Eighth Amendment in 1791, that a person may be “deprived of life” provided they receive “due process of law.” Today, courts in every state must provide ample safeguards in criminal trials to those charged with a capital offense.
Unfortunately, there are some in high places who would like to do away with capital punishment completely. One of the most outspoken critics of the death penalty is currently on the U.S. Supreme Court. Senior Associate Justice John Paul Stevens recently admitted in a New York Times article that, rather than apply the law as it is, he has tried to narrow the category of offenders who are eligible for the death penalty. What he and many other judges refuse to admit, however, is that it is the job of the legislature, and not the courts, to determine how and when capital punishment ought to be administered.
Because the nature of man does not change, we will continue to experience man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. For acts such as those committed by Michael Anthony Taylor in Missouri and Thomas Douglas Arthur in Alabama, we will continue to need the death penalty not only as a matter of justice but also as a deterrent to crime. Those who inflict cruel and painful deaths on their helpless victims have no right – in the Eighth Amendment or anywhere else in our Constitution – to demand pain-free punishments for their horrendous crimes.
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