Ohio Experiments on the Condemned – What Else Is New?


The Second Essential Scary Truth         


The state of Ohio thinks it is taking the country into uncharted execution territory and the media is hopping mad. 


Tuesday, Kenneth Biros will be put to death in the Ohio death chamber for the February 1991 murder of Tami Engstrom.  The state of Ohio uses lethal injection to execute it’s condemned.  However, Biros will be the first inmate ever put to death with a single injection instead of the usual three drug protocol.


When a state has botched lethal injections in the past, veins have been hard to find or the inmate was left on the gurney for 20-30 minutes, slowly choking to death.  The new drug will be introduced via an intramuscular injection instead of the previous intravenous procedure.  State officials feel the new method will be far more humane than the three drug cocktail pioneered by Texas.  The one issue the new protocol presents is time of death.  When a lethal injection was done properly, the inmate expires in seven minutes.  The new lethal injection will kill the condemned in 15 minutes. 


The usual suspects are lining up.  Death penalty opponents feel this one drug method is even more cruel and unusual than the three drug cocktail.  Those on the other side of the aisle point to the inmates’ crimes and feel the inmates are getting a better deal than their victims.  Whatever the case, the Appellate Courts will earn their money sorting out this mess.


But is it right to experiment on the inmates we are putting to death?  Does it make us Mengele-like?  This is hardly the first time we have used our condemned inmates as guinea pigs to find better/more humane execution technology. 


The electric chair was introduced by New York State in 1890, when William Kemmler was put to death for killing his lover.  Over the next few years, New York worked hard at perfecting its new execution method and the men the state killed were the subjects of these tests.  William Taylor’s 1893 execution not only didn’t kill him but blew the generator at Ossining (Sing Sing) State Prison.  Prison officials kept him alive until they could finish the job. 


Willie Francis walked away from a Louisiana electric chair in 1946.  When the state decided to set another execution date for Francis, he appealed.   In Francis v. Resweber, the Supreme Court ruled against Francis.  Since execution meant death and Francis was still alive, his punishment had not been carried out.  Willie Francis was electrocuted on May 9, 1947.    


Whatever the state of Ohio and the media think about Tuesday’s execution of Kenneth Biros, it is simply more in a long line of American attempts to find a humane way to kill our criminals.  The difference is between choking to death on a gurney and browning out Manhattan when things go wrong.  And yes, I believe that’s been done as well.



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