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Anna Baumann
Professor Mathew Bond
English 1B
20 January 2016

The Death Penalty is Absolutely Useless: Heres Why

I believe the United States should abandon the death penalty. There are many arguments

against the death penalty, such as the high cost, low deterrence rates of other murders, and the

cruelty implemented upon prisoners at their death. Executions in the United States are so cruel

they traumatize not only the inmates, but also the people who witness them. The death penalty

and its flawed execution also adds to the USs image in the world as being barbaric and unjust.

This is the argument against the death penalty I will focus on in this essay.

Throughout history, different methods have been used to implement executions from

hanging, to firing squads, to the electric chair. Nowadays, the method of choice is death by lethal

injection. The government is currently using pentobarbital, propofol, or midazolam. All these

drugs are not fool proof and the number of botched executions is alarming. Recently, many

European companies have refused to sell propofol and pentobarbital to the United States, stating

that providing means for executions goes against their moral beliefs. This has forced states to

resort to using unsafe drugs, such as midazolam, or revert back to now out-dated methods of

execution, such as electrocution, which is said to be both physiologically and psychologically

excruciating. This lack of a humane way to execute criminals is damaging Americas image. The

media coverage of botched executions allows the exposure of flaws in the system of execution.

European companies refusal to sell execution drugs to the USA is therefore successfully

influencing public opinions about the death penalty and exposing just how flawed it is.

The European Union has always made their anti-death penalty stance very clear. They

donated over 4.3 million dollars to anti-death penalty organizations in the USA during 2009-
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2013.1 The British government has also banned all execution drug shipments to the United

States.2 The rest of the EU has imposed similar bans or restrictions. Some states, such as

California, Arizona and Nebraska are now turning to other countries such as India to acquire

their drugs.3 States in the US are also trying to approve more and more experimental drugs, such

as midazolam, for executions. These drugs all have very low success rates. Europe is trying its

hardest to work towards abolishing the death penalty in the US. The United States is one of the

last developed countries to still implement the death penalty. Europe sees the death penalty as

morally wrong, and a growing number of Americans are feeling this way as well.

Nevertheless, the cases of cruel and torturous executions in the US continue. On April 29,

2014, Clayton D. Lockett was executed in Oklahoma after being found guilty of the murder and

rape of nineteen-year-old Stephanie Neiman.4 He was put to death using an experimental drug

protocol that included Midazolam. It took an hour to find a suitable vein on Mr. Lockett. One

was finally found in his groin area. The paralytic agent was then introduced and it looked to

officials as if Lockett was unconscious. This was essential as Midazolam is excruciatingly

painful if the patient is not completely unconscious. The Midazolam was administered 10

minutes after the anaesthesia.5 However, he was not unconscious. 3 minutes after the second two

lethal drugs were administered, Mr. Locket, began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney,

clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow.6 20 minutes after this drug was

administered, the director of the Oklahoma department of corrections stopped the execution

Matt Ford, Can Europe End the Death Penalty in America?, The Atlantic, Feb 18, 2014,
Jennifer Horne, Lethal Injection Drug Shortage, The Council of State Governments, Feb 2016,
Michael L. Radelet, Examples of Post-Furman Botched Executions, Death Penalty Information Center, July 24,
2014, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/some-examples-post-furman-botched-executions?scid=8&did=478.
5 Ibid.
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because of the obvious suffering Mr. Locket was in. It was too late, however. Mr. Lockett died

43 minutes after receiving Midazolam of a heart attack while still in the execution chamber. The

problems with this execution led to a two-week stay, followed by litigation, for another death

row inmate, Mr. Warner.7

Mr. Warner was executed on January 15, 2015 after months of litigation.8 He was also

put to death in Oklahoma. He was executed using potassium acetate, a chemical that was not

approved by the state of Oklahoma. At this time, the drug protocol called for potassium chloride.

This case mirrors Mr. Locketts in the extent of the cruelty. Mr. Warner was quoted saying, my

body [is] on fire, as he was being put to death. However, the Supreme Court ruled Oklahomas

drug protocol constitutional in June 2014.9 Such examples of botched executions show that death

by lethal injection is ineffective, painful, and, at times, torturous to endure; Europe has come to

this conclusion as well, and is making it known. The examples of the execution of Mr. Lockett

and Mr. Warner show the ineffectiveness and intense cruelty of the modern death penalty. This

treatment of prisoners is becoming unacceptable in the rest of the developed worlds views,

Europe is trying its hardest to convince America to stop using the death penalty.

These cases, however, do not make Americas pro-death penalty states rethink their

positions. Instead, many states are reauthorizing other methods-such as electrocution or even

death by firing squad, to solve the drug shortage. Currently, electrocution is authorized in 8 states

as an alternative to lethal injections. However, by modern standards, these methods have become

even more barbaric than death by lethal injection. In his article, David Raybin, a lawyer,

Jennifer Horne, Lethal Injection Drug Shortage, The Council of State Governments, Feb 2016,
Execution List 2015, Death Penalty Information Center, 2016, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/execution-list-
Christian Farias, The Supreme Court Let a Man Die. He was Executed with the Wrong Drug, Huffington Post,
October 12, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/supreme-court-oklahoma-death-
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describes what he witnessed at the electrocution of Daryl Holton on September 12, 2007. This is

one of the most recent cases of electrocution. Mr. Raybin describes the psychological damage

electrocution does to a criminal. The criminal becomes strapped to a chair, and wet sponges and

electrodes are attached to their body. This process, as described by David Raybin, took over 10

minutes. The torment of never knowing what is coming next must have been enormous. Mr.

Raybin also described that Mr. Holton began hyperventilating before his execution.10 Excluding

the psychological effects, there are also numerous cases of botched electrocutions, namely, of

criminals not dying from the electrical pulse. Other methods, such as a firing squad or gas

chamber, are also far from fool proof and have harming psychological effects on both the

criminal and the witnesses.

The death penalty cannot be enforced without causing significant psychological and

physical damage before death. This means that the US is essentially torturing its victims. No

method of execution is truly humane. And the death penalty is not necessary or helpful for

keeping law and order. Many studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter crime

statistically. The Brennan Center for Justice stated that murders are usually committed based on

the emotion of the moment, with no thought given to the consequences.11 On top of this, the

death penalty is very costly. In Kansas, criminal cases without the death penalty cost around

$740,000, while cases with it cost around $ 1.26 million.12 This data suggests, that the death

penalty is not even useful for society. This means that, not only is the death penalty useless, it is

also causing Europe and other nations to lose its respect for the United States.

10 David Raybin, Lawyer for the Condemned: I Witnessed What Should Be the Last Electric Chair Execution,
Hollins, Raybin, Weissman Attorneys at Law, June 23, 2014, http://www.hollinslegal.com/blog/the-last-
11 Oliver Roeder, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Julia Bowling, What Caused the Crime Decline?, Brennan Center

for Justice, February 12, 2015, https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/what-caused-crime-decline.

12 Costs of the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Information Center, 2016,

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Is the death penalty still enforced simply because of tradition, because we have always

done it? Or are we simply seeking revenge? In a recent poll, the number of people who still

believed the death penalty was the best punishment for murder was only 39%.13 If we kill people

because they have killed people, are we, as a country, any better than the murderers themselves?

This is a question many countries have asked themselves and decided it was unethical to execute

individuals, no matter what they have done. Now, it is the United States turn to ask this question.

The death penalty is not helpful in maintaining social order, it is outrageously expensive,

it is cruel and inhuman, and it has negative consequences for the international standing of the

US. If no rational argument for the death penalty can be found, it should be eliminated.

Works Cited

Costs of the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Center. 2016.


Execution List 2015. Death Penalty Information Center. 2016.


Farias, Christian. The Supreme Court Let a Man Die. He was Executed with the Wrong

Drug. Huffington Post. October 12, 2015.



Ford, Matt. Can Europe End the Death Penalty in America?. The Atlantic. Feb 18,

2014. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/02/can-europe-end-the-


13Public Opinion about the Death Penalty, Death Penalty Information Center, 2016,
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Horne, Jennifer. Lethal Injection Drug Shortage. The Council of State Governments.

Feb 2016. http://www.csg.org/pubs/capitolideas/enews/issue65_4.aspx.

Public Opinion about the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Center. 2016.


Radelet, Michael L. Examples of Post-Furman Botched Executions. Death Penalty

Information Center. July 24, 2014. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/some-examples-


Raybin, David. Lawyer for the Condemned: I Witnessed What Should Be the Last

Electric Chair Execution. Hollins, Raybin, Weissman Attorneys at Law. June 23, 2014.


Roeder, Oliver, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Julia Bowling. What Caused the Crime

Decline?. Brennan Center for Justice. February 12, 2015.