"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Monday, December 18, 2006

We're All a Little Safer Today

How germane to my upcoming discussion of execution of those who are still pose a threat despite incarceration. Much hubaloo has been made over the "botched" execution of Angel Diaz in Florida (although since he is now dead, I'm not sure you could call the execution "botched"). It appears it took an extra dose of chemicals and 30 extra minutes to carry out the sentence. This unusual circumstance has led to howls of protest from the usual pro-criminal crowd, even though no one can really say whether the process caused Diaz any pain. Almost certainly, however, he did not feel as much pain as the man he shot to death or a prior victim he stabbed to death.

Now, while we all wish executions would occur flawlessly, the fact of occasional human error in administering lethal injection is hardly a compelling argument for abolition. In fact, lethal injection is still the preferred choice of condemned killers in places like Virginia where they are offered a choice between injection and other methods, such as the electric chair.

What's missing in all the hand-wringing and sobbing about Angel Diaz from the abolitionist lobby is, as usual, any mention of his crimes or his criminal history.

He was convicted of shooting to death a manager of a business, Joseph Nagy, during a robbery. Although some have claimed there is doubt about his guilt as the triggerman, Diaz himself admitted he was present at the crime armed with a gun. Although he claimed not to have fired the fatal shots, witness testimony conclusively established that all three robbers fired their weapons during the robbery. "Diaz was considered a major participant in the robbery: arming himself with a large caliber weapon equipped with a silencer, casing the bar from his seat for a long time, firing shots in the air that almost struck a dancer, and abducting a waitress to the back office to open the safe, according to court documents." So, enough about "actual innocence." This guy, even assuming against the evidence he was not the triggerman, was in no sense "innocent" of the murder.

But of greater interest to me were these under-reported facts about the dearly-departed Mr. Diaz:
In 1978, Diaz was sentenced in Puerto Rico to 10 to 15 years in prison for the second-degree murder of a prison drug rehab director. Diaz stabbed the man to death while he was incarcerated for armed robbery.
He escaped custody a year later and fled to Florida. In 1981, he fled the Hartford Correctional Center in Connecticut by holding one guard at knifepoint while another was beaten as he and three other inmates escaped.


Excuse me, but is this not exactly the type of criminal who most merits the death penalty? Indeed, even under the most restrictive interpretation of the novel Catholic revision of the teaching about use of the death penalty, this guy would be exhibit #1 for a justified use of the death penalty.

It's a shame that he was not executed after he killed someone in jail and then escaped prison: Joseph Nagy might still be alive. But alas, in some circles Nagy's life and the life of his earlier victim are apparently worth less than the political points that can be scored off the botched but nevertheless highly merited and just execution of Diaz.


Gideon's Guardians said...

Do you also agree with this slight change in your 2d paragraph?
"Now, while we all wish [capital trials] would occur flawlessly, the fact of occasional human error in administering [a capital trial]is hardly a compelling argument for abolition."

123txpublicdefender123 said...

I think the strongest death penalty case can be made for those who have either committed murder while in prison or who escape prison and commit murder. That said, Florida needs to make sure that their lethal injection procedure is appropriate and that those carrying it out know what the hell they're doing. If I recall correctly, they had problems with their electric chair, too, where some poor guy's head caught on fire (and if I'm remembering right, he did have a strong case of actual innocence; his co-defendant was exonerated after he was executed).

I am not swayed by the argument that whatever pain he suffered wasn't as bad as his victims. We aren't supposed to be on the level of heinous murderers. We're supposed to be more civilized. We are bound by the 8th Amendment, no matter what the criminal has done.

Anonymous said...

A three year old knows killing is wrong. Where is your humanity? Even if Angel were guilty is it okay to also commit an act of violence or for the government to commit an act of violence. Where is your soul? And are you so clueless that you don't know the facts about how flawed the death penalty system is? Don't you know that all the other civilized nations have abolished it? What planet are you on?

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: capital punishment

"Everybody Must Get Stoned"

Dudley Sharp said...

123 writes: "and if I'm remembering right, he did have a strong case of actual innocence; his co-defendant was exonerated after he was executed"

You're not. He had no credible case of innocence.

A little review of lethal injection

No Pain in Lethal Injection
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info, below

The evidence, including the immediate autopsy of executed serial murderer/rapist Michael Ross, at bottom,  supports that there is no pain within the lethal injection process.

The alleged concern is that some inmates may have been conscious, but paralyzed, during execution, because one of the three drugs used may have worn off, prior to death.

An Associated Press reporter correctly stated that  "there is little to support those claims except a few anecdotes of inmates gasping and convulsing and an article in the British medical journal Lancet." (AP, "Death penalty foes attack lethal-injection drug", 7/5/05)
The British Medical Journal, The Lancet, published an article critical of lethal injection. The article did not/could not identify one case where evidence existed than an inmate was conscious during execution.
The Lancet article identified 21 cases of execution where the level of "post mortem" (after death) sodium thiopental was below that used in surgery and, therefore,  may suggest consciousness was possible.
A more accurate description would be all but impossible.
A "long after execution" post mortem measurement of sodium thiopental is very different from a moment of death measurement.

Dr. Lydia Conlay, chair of the department of anesthesiology, Baylor College of Medicine (Texas Medical Center, Houston) said the extrapolation of postmortem sodium thiopental levels in the blood to those at the time of execution is by no means a proven method. "I just don't think we can draw any conclusions from (the Lancet study) , one way or the other."
Actually, we can. The science is well known.  Sodium thiopental is absorbed rapidly into the body. Long after execution blood testing of those levels means absolutely nothing with regard to the levels at the time of execution. 
The Lancet article did not dispute the obvious --  for executions,  the sodium thiopental is administered in dosages roughly 10-20  times the amount necessary for sedation unconsciousness during surgical procedures.

Unconsciousness occurs within the first 30 seconds of the injection/execution process. The injection of the three drugs takes from 4-5 minutes. Death usually occurs within 6-7 minutes and is pronounced within 8-10 minutes.

The researchers also failed to note the much lower probability (impossibility?) that the murderer could be conscious, while all three drugs are coursing through the veins, concurrently.
Despite the Lancet article's presumptions and omissions, there is no scientific evidence that consciousness could occur with the amounts and methods of injecting those three drugs within the execution period.
The AP article also stated that "They (death penalty opponents)  also attack lethal injection by saying that the steps to complete it haven't been reviewed by medical professionals."
Obviously, untrue.
Intravenous application of medication has been successfully used for many, many decades.

The chemicals used in lethal injection, as well as their individual and collective results, at the dosages used, are also well known.

Furthermore, lethal injection is not a medical procedure. It is the culmination of a judicial sentence carried out by criminal justice professionals, the result of which is intended as death, the outcome of every case.

Opponents of the death penalty, as well as other uninformed or deceptive sources, have been stating that even vets do not use the paralytic agent in the euthanasia of animals. This is a perversion of the veterinary position, which actually provides support for the human execution process.
Some fact checking is in order  -- www(dot)avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/euthanasia.pdf

Some Additional Reality

From Harford Courant, "Ross Autopsy Stirs Execution Debate----Results Cited To Counter Talk Of Pre-Death Pain", August 11, 2005

The below is a paraphase of parts of that article, including some exact quotes.

Results of the autopsy done on serial killer Michael Ross are being cited by several prominent doctors to refute a highly publicized article that appeared in The Lancet, the British medical journal, in April, 2005.

Critics of the Lancet article say it does not account for postmortem redistribution of the anesthetic - thiopental. The redistribution, the critics say, accounts for the lower levels of thiopental on which Dr. Koniaris based his Lancet article conclusions that the levels of anesthetic were inadequate. The Ross autopsy results document this redistribution, bolstering the critics' assertions.

Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, Connecticut's chief medical examiner, was aware of the controversial Lancet article before performing the Ross autopsy. As a result, he took the additional step of drawing a sample of Ross's blood 20 minutes after he was pronounced dead at 2:25 a.m. May 13. Carver took a subsequent sample during the autopsy, which began about 7 hours later, at 9:40 a.m.

The 1st sample showed a concentration of 29.6 milligrams per liter of thiopental; the second sample showed a concentration of 9.4 milligrams per liter. The 1st sample was drawn from Ross' right femoral artery, and the second from his heart, which can account for some of the discrepancy. But Dr. Mark Heath, a New York anesthesiologist and one of the numerous doctors who have signed letters to The Lancet challenging the Koniaris article, said it clearly substantiates the postmortem redistribution of the thiopental.

Dr. Jonathan Groner, a pediatric surgeon from Ohio said he interviewed a number of forensic toxicologists before adopting the view that thiopental in a corpse leaves the blood and is absorbed by the fat, causing blood samples taken hours after death to be an unreliable marker of the levels of thiopental in the body at the time of death.

Groner described the Ross autopsy results as "a powerful refutation" of the Lancet-Koniaris study.

Dr. Ashraf Mozayani, a forensic toxicologist with the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office in Texas, said the level of thiopental "drops quite a bit" after death. Even in the living, Mozayani said, thiopental levels decline rapidly after administration of the drug. She cited one study in which a patient was administered 400 milligrams of thiopental intravenously. After two minutes the concentration in the blood was measured at 28 milligrams, but dropped to 3 milligrams concentration 19 minutes after the anesthetic was injected.

Mozayani said the declining concentration of thiopental cited in the Ross autopsy report "make sense."

On The Lancet article, she said, "I don't think they have the whole story - the postmortem redistribution and all the other things they have to consider for postmortem testing." 
originally written May, 2005. Updated as merited.
copyright 2005-2006
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BCC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Anonymous said...


...in some circles Nagy's life and the life of his earlier victim are apparently worth less than the political points that can be scored off the botched but nevertheless highly merited and just execution of Diaz.

This is *exactly* what is happening in the Catholic Church; the perpetrators of evil receive more mercy and consideration that the victims of evil. Consider the reaction of Kathleen Treanor, who lost her daughter in the Oklahoma City bombing, to the news that the late pope wrote Pres. Bush to ask for clemency for McVeigh:

“Let me ask the pope, ‘Where’s my clemency? When do I get any clemency? When does my family get some clemency?’ When the pope can answer that, we can talk.”

Consider the reaction from Gail Lee, the sister of a woman who was raped and murdered by a man for whom the late pope and Mother Teresa were advocating clemency (the man's fiancee also manipulated Italian public opinion):

“We’re all very fragile at this point. It’s just like the Italians hate us. They in essence have said to my family, ‘You are worthless. Helen’s life doesn’t matter.’”

This is the kind of upside-down moral thinking that the Church has wrought with its moral revisionism concerning capital punishment.

Why should be surprised when Vatican officials oppose Saddam Hussein's execution?

Steve Golay said...

Knew it was coming in spite of declarations of NOT posting over Christmas - the coming execution of Saddam!

Can trust you to guide us. Can only imagine the turmoil set to broil Catholic blogland in the next month - may even top that infamous 'torture debate'.


AustinDefense said...

Just curious here Tom... are all the defense lawyers you see in your professional life "pro-criminal", or just the ones who represent defendants in capital cases?

Are the non-death penalty criminal defense attorneys pro-rape, pro-burglary, pro-assault?

Or, third possibility, is labeling them "pro-criminal" some sort of combination of ad hominem attack/straw man argument?

Is it possible to reasonably disagree with your position on the death penalty without being "pro-criminal"? - See how I managed to ask that last question without calling you, say, an "execution junkie"? or "death lover"? It can be done! :)


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