“We Have Stopped Being A Civilized Nation And Accepted Barbarism. I Dissent”: SCOTUS Justice Sotamayor Refuses To Join ‘Rush To Execute’ A Rape-Murder Convict
“I cannot in good conscience join in this “rush to execute” without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result... If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism. I dissent.”
Billy Ray Irick, who was convicted for 1985 rape and murder of 7-year-old Paula Dyer, was executed on 9th August 2018 with a drug that might inflict 'torturous pain'.
He made a last ditch effort before the Supreme Court of the United States, but in vain. As his application for stay of execution of sentence of death got rejected by the top court, ultimately death dawned on him. Reportedly, this execution was the state of Tennessee's first in nearly a decade.
Hours before his execution, SCOTUS Justice Sonia Sotamayor wrote her dissenting opinion.
She noted that the medical experts had explained before the trial court how the three-drug cocktail planned to inject into Irick’s veins will cause him to experience sensations of drowning, suffocating, and being burned alive from the inside out.
The judge opined that the Supreme Court ought to have decided the important question whether the Constitution truly tolerates executions carried out by such quite possibly torturous means.
She further said: “In refusing to grant Irick a stay, the Court today turns a blind eye to a proven likelihood that the State of Tennessee is on the verge of inflicting several minutes of torturous pain on an inmate in its custody, while shrouding his suffering behind a veneer of paralysis. I cannot in good conscience join in this “rush to execute” without first seeking every assurance that our precedent permits such a result. .. If the law permits this execution to go forward in spite of the horrific final minutes that Irick may well experience, then we have stopped being a civilized nation and accepted barbarism. I dissent.”
Before the trial court, Irick had raised two different alternative methods: a single-drug procedure using only a drug called pentobarbital or, a modification of the current procedure to omit the administration of vecuronium bromide as a paralytic agent as its second step. These pleas were rejected by the trial court on the ground that pentobarbital was currently unavailable to the state notwithstanding its efforts to find a supplier. It also refused to permit him to amend the pleadings to argue that simply omitting the paralytic drug would be a suitable alternative.
On this, Justice Sotamayor said: “If Irick did fail to plead and prove at least one available alternative, this case further illustrates the error of this Court’s “macabre challenge” to condemned prisoners that they must propose an alternative method for their own executions. But given the life-or-death stakes of determining whether the trial court erred in concluding that Irick failed to prove an alternative means of execution, and because Irick makes a nonfrivolous contention that the trial court did so err, I would grant the stay to allow the state courts more time to consider Irick’s claims.’
Lethal Injunction Alternative To Hanging?
Incidentally, the Indian Supreme Court is in seisen of a petition filed by Advocate Rishi Malhotra seeking abolition of execution of death sentence by hanging saying the same is not instant and is violative of right to die.
The government, in the said case, has told the Supreme Court that hanging till death is a safer and quick method of execution of death sentence and that other means such lethal injection or a firing squad can be more barbaric and inhumane furthering the poignancy.
It also cited the example of Joseph Rudolph Wood III, who suffered what is being called as one of the longest executions in the history of the US where it took nearly 2 hours to complete the process of execution. It has been reported that he gasped 660 times before he died in Oklahom.