The Changing Face Of Capital Punishment

This month two news items presented a stunning contrast in the world of crime and punishment.

In Ohio, USA, Johnnie Baston became the first person in the United States to be executed with the single-dose drug pentobarbital.

Most lethal-injection executions are performed using the drug sodium thiopental, but faced with a nationwide shortage the country is looking for alternatives. Pentobarbital has been used in lethal injections before, but only as the first drug of a three-drug cocktail. It has also been used to euthanize animals, but this is the first time it’s gone solo in a human execution.

A couple of states over, in Illinois, we find a different take on the preferred method of execution: There now isn’t any.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed legislation abolishing capital punishment in the state and commuting the sentence for the 15 men still on death row. This comes just over a decade after one of Quinn’s predecessors, Governor George Ryan, placed a temporary halt on executions when 20 death-row inmates were exonerated of the charges against them.

Not everyone is happy with this change in legislation. Some believe that execution should still be on the books for “extreme” cases. But isn’t every murder extreme? And isn’t is just as possible for mistakes to result in wrongful convictions in “extreme” cases as they are in … what? … “normal” crimes? Perhaps the critics would be happier in Ohio.