The death penalty in Mississippi, realized primarily through lethal injection since 1984, is now being reviewed by the state legislature. House Bill 638 proposed a revision to the death penalty by amending the original 1972 code (section 99-19-51). The amendment retains lethal injection as the first option for execution. If lethal injection is found unconstitutional, nitrogen hypoxia will be used. Firing squad will be the third option, and electrocution the fourth. The amendment passed the Mississippi House of Representatives in a 75-43 vote.
According to the Republican House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, House Bill 638 is a consequence of lawsuits filed by “liberal, left-wing radicals”. One of these “radicals” is attorney Jim Craig, who is suing Mississippi over lethal injection drugs. Craig says each of the proposed methods will be challenged in court: “Every single one, in essence, just injects a whole new series of issues in the existing case.” Democratic Rep. and attorney Willie Perkins also opposes the death penalty. He questioned Gipson about “the time of suffering” an inmate would experience before electrocution, gas chamber or firing squad. Gipson chose not to respond.
Mississippi is one of 33 states to employ the death penalty, and was the first to approve the use of the electric chair. In the mid-1990’s, lethal injections replaced the electric chair as the preferred method of execution in the U.S. lethal injections are typically a three-part procedure. First, inmates are injected with sodium thiopental to induce unconsciousness, then pancuronium promide (also known as Pavulon) to cause paralysis and respiratory arrest. Finally, potassium chloride is injected to stop the heart. Many states are currently facing a shortage of these drugs, “delaying executions and forcing the change of execution protocols”.
Lethal injection is the execution method with the highest rate of botched procedures. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, of the 1,054 prisoners to have undergone lethal injection in U.S. history, 75 failed to go as planned (7.12%). This can happen when inmates fail to remain unconscious and may be moving, gasping or speaking as they feel the lethal drugs coursing through their veins. Often, executioners struggle to find a suitable vein and the procedure takes much longer than anticipated. This is especially common among prisoners with a history of intravenous drug use. Prolonging the procedure is often criticized as inhumane and torturous.
The southern state currently has 47 people on death row— some who have been awaiting execution for decades. According to the Dept. of Justice, the average wait time in the U.S. between sentencing and execution is 15.5 years. Currently, the death penalty in Ohio has been suspended for three years while a federal judge rules whether the lethal injection may be too painful. Last year, Capital Punishment in the U.S. hit a 25 year low. This is in part due to the long legal processes involved, which often include many appeals. The death penalty has not been performed in Mississippi since 2012.
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