Of the many reasons to oppose the death penalty, the simplest and most compelling is that it is morally wrong for the state to take a human life.
That was the case just after 6 a.m. Wednesday, when Missouri executed Joseph Paul Franklin, a paranoid schizophrenic who hated blacks and Jews. He was convicted of killing eight people around the country between 1977 and 1980, including Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting outside a St. Louis synagogue.
And it will be the case if Missouri carries out its scheduled Dec. 11 execution of Allen Nicklasson, known as the “Good Samaritan killer” because he murdered a man who stopped to help him after his car broke down.
Both men committed horrible acts and deserved to live out their lives in prison. But executions do nothing to cure mental illness, prevent brokenness in human beings or make the public any safer. They are acts of state-sanctioned vengeance, and they are wrong.
That belief — held by growing numbers of people — is what forced Missouri to conceal important information about the identity of the compounding pharmacy that prepared the dose of pentobarbital used to kill Franklin. The company was listed as a member of the execution team, which by state law is granted anonymity.
For good reason, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly unwilling to be partners in executions. The European Union is boycotting the use of drugs manufactured there for the purpose of killing inmates.
Pentobarbital’s manufacturer, Akorn Inc. of Illinois, won’t authorize its product to be used for executions. But the drug can be mixed in small doses by a pharmacy that prepares specialty medicines. These places, compounding pharmacies, are unregulated and controversial. Some have been responsible for outbreaks of illness. In Kansas City, former pharmacist Robert Courtney is in prison for diluting chemotherapy medications.
A bill calling for more regulation of compounding pharmacies has recently cleared Congress. But it does nothing to stop the businesses from preparing execution drugs.
Missouri is on shaky ground here, enlisting an unnamed pharmacy to mix a drug normally used to euthanize animals and injecting that drug into the veins of a condemned man. The secrecy and the act itself are wrong.
Studies have consistently shown the death penalty is costly, used disproportionately against minorities and risky as an irreversible outcome of a flawed criminal justice system. Missouri legislators should end it in favor of strict life sentences for those who commit the most heinous crimes.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.