Not A More Humane Way To Kill

A Botched Lethal Injection In Georgia


By: Jay Varner

If sitting on death row for 25 years was not torture enough, the state of Georgia botched Jose High’s execution November 6. It took prison guards almost 40 minutes to start the IV that would kill High, a procedure that usually takes five minutes.

Emergency medical technicians were unable to find a usable vein in Jose’s arm and abandoned their efforts after 15 to 20 minutes. In violation of the ethical code of the American Medical Association, a physician was called in to find a useable vein. Eventually, one needle was stuck in High’s hand and a second needle was inserted in High’s neck.

Jose was conscious during all of this, and prison officials turned off the microphone so that witnesses could not hear Jose’s screams. But his pain was clear for witnesses to see once officials opened the curtains.

A reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote: "During the procedure, he grimaced, appeared to cry, blinked rapidly and stared at a clock on the wall. At one point he cried out but his words were unintelligible because the microphone in the room was off...The difficulty inserting the IV had visible physical responses [on] High."

There have been numerous other botched lethal injections across the country.

In the case of Bennie Demps, executed by lethal injection in Florida last year, execution technicians also had problems finding suitable veins. "They butchered me back there," Demps said in his final statement. "I was in a lot of pain. They cut me in the groin; they cut me in the leg. I was bleeding profusely. This is not an execution, it is murder."

In the case of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally retarded man who was executed by the state of Arkansas in 1992, medical staff took more than 50 minutes to find a suitable vein in Rector’s arm. Although they were kept behind a drawn curtain and not permitted to view this scene, witnesses reported hearing Rector’s eight loud moans throughout the process. During the ordeal, Rector, who suffered from serious brain damage, helped medical personnel find a vein.

In other cases, inmates have had violent physical reactions to drugs used in lethal injection.

High’s execution was Georgia’s second lethal injection since the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the use of the electric chair as cruel and unusual punishment. Lethal injection is supposed to be the more humane alternative to the electric chair. One of the chemicals used in lethal injections paralyzes the body so that the inmate cannot react and show any pain that he or she is experiencing. That is why it often appears as if inmates executed by lethal injection are just "going to sleep." But High’s execution makes it clear that lethal injection is hardly a more humane way to kill people.

With his last words, High condemned the death penalty as racist and designed to hurt only the poor. High, who was only 17 years old at the time of the crime, maintained his innocence to the very end. "I did not kill that little boy," High said. "I could not hurt a child. Never. That lie is going to follow me now. I’m ready to die."

Jose’s death and his stance will not be in vain. We have to fight the death penalty and end it once and for all! The death penalty in any form is cruel and unusual punishment.