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‘Bring back firing squads’: Federal judge says executions should be executions

Published time: July 25, 2014 13:23
AFP Photo / Erik S. Lesser

AFP Photo / Erik S. Lesser

After a series of lethal injections that have gone terribly awry in recent months, an influential federal judge has called for the return of firing squads.

Speaking to AP on Thursday, Alex Kozinski reiterated his longstanding disdain for lethal injections, citing drug shortages and legal challenges. He said firing squads would never be scrambling to find guns or bullets.

"I've always thought executions should be executions," he said, "not medical procedures."

Kozinski, who serves as chief judge of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals, first proposed changing America’s preferred method of capital punishment days before Joseph Rudolph Wood III was left gasping and snorting on a lethal injection gurney for 90 minutes - expiring two hours after the execution began.

Somewhat ironically, despite an impassioned screed against lethal injection in a decision on Monday, Kozinski, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, was at the same time arguing that Wood’s execution should go ahead in Phoenix.

The crux of Kozinski’s argument is simple: if society has decided it is going to kill people, than don’t try to dress it up as anything other than a killing.

Judge Alex Kozinski (Reuters / Paul Sakuma)

“Whatever happens to Wood, the attacks will not stop and for a simple reason: The enterprise is flawed. Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful—like something any one of us might experience in our final moments. But executions are, in fact, nothing like that. They are brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should it,” he wrote.

Kozinski said the state’s misguided attempt at sanitization should be replaced with “more primitive” and “foolproof” methods of execution.

“The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos,” he wrote. “And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising.”

This undated photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections shows death-row inmate Joseph Rudolph Wood.

The judge envisions up to ten large-caliber rifle bullets being fired at close range, which would cause “instant death every time.”

“There are plenty of people employed by the state who can pull the trigger and have the training to aim true,” he added.

Kozinski was appointed to the left-leaning 9th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. His opinion will likely add fuel to the death penalty debate as US lawmakers in Missouri and Wyoming introduced measures in January that would give their states an option to use firing squads in lieu of lethal drugs, according to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

No state currently employs firing squads as the primary form of execution, though Oklahoma and Utah allow death row inmates to be shot under certain circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed it shock at the apparently botched execution of Wood.

“I am deeply shocked at the apparently bungled execution of Joseph Wood, on 23 July 2014 in Arizona, who took nearly two hours to die – during most of which he was seen gasping and snorting – after having been administered an experimental drug cocktail whose origin the state had kept secret,” Marietta Karamanli, general rapporteur on the abolition of the death penalty, said on Friday.

Noting that the Council of Europe had consistently condemned all forms of capital punishment, Karamanli said that the latest failed execution was particularly disturbing given that it was not the first bungled state killing relying on experimental lethal injections.

“It is beyond comprehension that the United States, a country which enjoys observer status with our organization and shares our common values of the rule of law and respect for human rights continues to tolerate such cruel treatment,” she added.