Jack Sullivan, 23, convicted of killing a railroad policeman, smiles and smokes a cigar as he is prepared for the gas chamber at the Arizona State Penitentiary in Florence in 1936. When asked if he had a final request, he reportedly said, "You might get me a gas mask."
Joseph Wood III was declared fully sedated ay 1:57 p.m. in the death chamber in Florence. But because of incompetence or a bad execution drug cocktail, he wasn't pronounced dead until 3:49 p.m.
This event has brought more of the kind of national news coverage to Arizona that can only enhance its reputation as a cruel and hapless place to the talented, compassionate and those who make decisions about where to deploy capital. A sampling is here. Even John McCain, who would know, called it "torture."
On the other hand, probably a majority of Arizonans would share the comment of someone from Phoenix on Facebook: "I saw nothing wrong with it...he did NOT suffer...just slept longer." When challenged, he added, "I hope the bastard rots in hell!!!" According to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans favored the death penalty in 2013, down from a high of 78 percent in the 1980s.
Wood was convicted in 1991 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Debra Dietz and her father, Eugene. He also pointed the gun at police, who shot him.
I used to be in favor of the death penalty for the worst of the worst. My thinking was that such controlled final violence by the state was better than leaving so many survivors feeling that justice was not done, and perhaps being tempted — this being America — to take matters into their own hands before the "criminal justice system" could intervene. It might make a killer think twice.
Now I am persuaded that it can't be administered fairly or with certainty, especially given the number of people who have later found to be innocent and freed. Or, in the case of Texas, executed anyway.
At the risk of alienating many of you, I'll add that a more serious study of the New Testament convinced me that the death penalty is profoundly in conflict with the teachings of Jesus. I mention this because I am explaining my personal change of position, and, for me, the faith dimension was powerful.
Finally, the endless appeals and expenses associated with death row make it impossible to administer the verdict in a timely fashion; so even if you are into retribution or deterrence, this isn't cutting it. Thirty-seven have been put to death since the state resumed executions in 1976, hardly in keeping with the number of heinous murders. This is not deterrence. It's three hots and a cot for a murderer indefinitely.
But a majority of Americans, and certainly a majority of Arizonans, won't buy this.
Remember, many Americans think it is dandy, and even in the national interest, to torture people. They would have shown up at public hangings or lynchings in the past. They'd do it again and smile all the way to the megachurch. We're not going to be Scandinavia anytime soon.
So here's my best advice to Arizona: Quit fucking up. Quit being a national embarrassment.
While Arizona was enhancing its image around the globe with this execution, North Carolina was landing a Fortune 500 headquarters with more than 1,200 well-paid jobs for Charlotte. North Carolina has turned batshit reactionary. But it at least has an economic development strategy that keeps it from paying the price (so far) from its GOPerism.
Sure, Ohio and Oklahoma had botched executions, too. Neither has the baggage of disgrace that trails Arizona.
My other suggestion: Bring back the gas chamber exclusively. It did the job for decades. And it was truly fearsome. So go full-out badass.