Kemmler

Gilbert King has an op-ed in today’s NY Times that bemoans the SCOTUS plurality holding in Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, slip op. (Apr. 16, 2008 ), which upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty.

King lists three examples of botched executions, two of which were the basis of SCOTUS decisions cited by both Chief Roberts and Justice Thomas in their separate opinions. See Wilkerson v. Utah, 99 U.S. 130 (1878 ); Louisiana ex rel. Francis v. Resweber, 329 U.S. 459 (1947).

The circumstances of these three executions, while undeniably unintended and no doubt more painful and stressful to the prisoners than originally contemplated, cannot be viewed in isolation as examples of “cruel and unusual” punishment.

Let’s take a look at the manner in which these three hoodlums killed their victims that led them to death row in the first place, shall we?

First up is Wallace Wilkerson, who moved slightly just before the firing squad unleashed its volley in 1879, resulting in four fatal–if not immediately so–wounds. “My God!” Wilkerson shrieked, “My God! They have missed!” Twenty-seven minutes later, Wilkerson died. How did he dispatch his own victim? Ironically, by the very same method–gunfire–that eventually did him in. There is no account of how long it took Wilkerson’s victim to die after being shot by Wilkerson, or what his victim’s last words may have been.

Willie Francis was electrocuted in 1946 in Louisiana for gunning down his employer, but Francis failed to die in the chair because of negligence on the part of the drunken prison guard who prepared it. He was re-electrocuted in 1947 after his unsuccessful appeal to SCOTUS.

The last example trotted out by King is that of William Kemmler, who was electrocuted in 1890 in a fiery mishap. While Kemmler’s death was no doubt gruesome, it could not have been as disturbing as his common-law wife and victim’s demise, who he murdered with a hatchet on March 29, 1889.

Forgive me if I am not moved by the discomfort experienced by any of these murderes in meeting their maker. And thankfully, neither is SCOTUS.

Thx to the NY Times and How Appealing

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