The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld Kentucky's lethal injection procedure for capital punishment. The decision will likely end self-imposed death penalty moratoriums in several states. As of writing this article, Virginia had already lifted its moratorium.
The decision had been long-awaited by advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate. Court prognosticators had mostly believed the court would uphold Kentucky's lethal injection program. But it was a surprise to many that the affirmance came with a 7-2 vote. The Roberts court has been known for a series of contentious 5-4 splits of any number of decisions, often with Justice Kennedy being the key swing vote.
In the Roberts court a 7-2 decision is a landslide, but that did not stop Associated Press writer Mark Sherman from describing that the "splintered Supreme Court cleared the way" for the resumption of capital punishment.
Similarly, ABC News discounted the ruling with an unbalanced article attacking the death penalty. The article ("Court Rejects Lethal Injection Challenge") begins with excerpts from the court's opinion (written by Chief Justice John Roberts) which allude to the tolerable risk of pain in administering the death penalty.
"Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution no matter how humane -- if only from the prospect of error in following the required procedure," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions."
"Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual," his opinion continued.
The pain component was an important part of the decision, but not the only part. The article could have been led many different ways, and with many different passages from the opinion itself. But the focus on the pain element set the tone for the entire article.
The article continues with a generous helping of comments from Richard Dieter (who runs the Death Penalty Information Center, a group opposed to the capital punishment). Dieter, trying to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat, hangs onto hope that the decision applies only in Kentucky.
"Lower courts could say that based on today's decision that the execution in certain states cannot go forward because they don't even meet the Kentucky procedures," Dieter continued. "This is not a blanket pass for all states to carry out lethal injections."
Next on the agenda for ABC is defense counsel, who got himself quoted by saying the media's favorite buzzword.
Donald Verrilli, an attorney for the Kentucky inmates, has said, "It really is not about fine-tuning the system to create an incrementally less amount of pain. This is about avoiding torture."
Continuing with the theme, ABC then lists the often-cited, emotion-evoking death penalty mishaps which are the basis of many anti-death-penalty arguments.
In Florida, convicted murderer Angel Diaz was executed in 2006. But a medical examiner's postmortem examination revealed that due to the improper injection of the anesthetic in his case, he had chemical burns on both arms. Experts believe he would have felt extreme pain for 20 to 30 minutes.
In Ohio, Joseph Clark was sentenced to death for killing a gas station attendant. But his 2006 execution was botched. It took him 86 minutes to die while he screamed in pain.
Continuing the attack, ABC makes this odd observation.
In Missouri, the doctor who devised and supervised that state's lethal injection procedure has admitted in court that he is dyslexic, "so it's not unusual for me to make mistakes."
The viewpoint of the victims is not touched upon by ABC until two sentences and a quote at the very end of the article. And even then the victims' family members are described as unsympathetic to death row inmates. Well, of course they are unsympathetic.
Once again, the media choose to point its sympathy at criminals. With the exception of a few notorious child rape cases, everybody on death row in the United States is a convicted killer. Every one of those cases has a victim (or multiple victims). Those folks certainly had their 8th Amendment rights violated, but that's not the focus of the media in this particular debate.