Lethal Injection Anniversary

On the 25th anniversary of the use of lethal injection in Texas, a noted writer will join several former prison officials and a journalist who've witnessed hundreds of executions in a panel discussion of lethal injection at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The panel is titled "25 Years of Lethal Injection: What Have We Learned?" It will be moderated by Austin writer Bill Crawford, who wrote the book "Texas Death Row: Executions in the Modern Era." Crawford says this is one of the most divisive issues in this country and people on both sides should talk about it.

"Each and every citizen in the state has, in effect, participated in the executions of 405 executed offenders, and yet the issue is so polarizing, that people tend to get angry, get stirred up, and not be able to listen to other peoples' perspectives and beliefs."

Crawford says even after executing hundreds of people over 25 years, he doesn't think we've learned much about the use of lethal injection.

"It was instituted, as the electric chair was, as the guillotine was, as the gallows was, probably, originally, as a humane way of putting a person to death. But because we haven't monitored the executions we've conducted, we have no empirical evidence here in the state of Texas to know whether or not this is actually a humane way of executing someone."ξ

Crawford says this void of evidence will be a problem for the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering two death penalty appeals that claim lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment. That's why Crawford doesn't think the court will outlaw lethal injection. He thinks it's more likely that the court will require states that use it to change the drugs and dosage to make it less painful. Crawford also thinks the debate over lethal injection is part of the national campaign against capital punishment. Victims' rights advocate Diane Clements, who supports the death penalty, agrees.ξ She says that debate won't end no matter how the court rules.

"I would predict that the Supreme Court will rule that it is not cruel and unusual, and I predict that, given that, executions will resume, and those that oppose the death penalty will find some other aspect to challenge."ξ

Panelists at the Prison Museum forum tonight include Associated Press reporter Mike Gracyzk, former prison system Public Information Officer Larry Fitzgerald, Jim Willett, former warden of the Walls Prison Unit, and victims' rights advocate Paula Kurland of Houston. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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