Why do we kill people to show people that killing people is wrong? The question has a child’s logic – and wisdom – which is why it is unanswerable. Instead, the U.S. and the states go back and forth, scheduling and delaying executions, trying different ways to kill convicts, to end-run the ACLU and the American Medical Association and to salve our consciences.
When Bill Clinton was running for president in 1992, he and Hillary left the campaign trail and flew back to Arkansas so Gov. Clinton could be in the state for the execution by lethal injection of Ricky Ray Rector, who had killed a cop. Rector by then was so brain-damaged from a shot he fired to his own head that he asked if he could save the pecan pie from his last meal for later. The Clintons wanted voters to see them not stopping this charade.
Twenty-four years later, Hillary, campaigning for president, was still supporting the death penalty, at odds with much of her party. Today, of the 20 top candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, only one, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, agrees with her.
The Republicans are another story. On Thursday, the Justice Department told the Bureau of Prisons to execute five federal inmates convicted of murder by lethal injection of pentobarbital. These would be the first federal executions in 16 years.
It may give death penalty opponents pause that the first person slated to be put down by the feds, on Dec. 9, is Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist convicted for his role in the 1996 murder by suffocation of an Arkansas gun dealer, his wife and her 8-year-old daughter. It should not. We do not doubt that Lee would deserve life without parole, or that it is enough for the most heinous criminal. Beyond that, no one should presume to go.