Before the end of the month, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of a particular three-drug protocol used for executing individuals who have been sentenced to death (Glossip v. Gross). As we consider whether one particular execution method is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment, it raises two larger questions: 1) Is the death penalty ever NOT cruel and unusual?; and 2) for us Granite Staters, how does this all affect the future of the death penalty in New Hampshire?
The original lethal injection protocol used barbiturates, an anesthetic, to force inmates into a coma. However, drug manufacturers have refused to supply U.S. correctional facilities with barbiturates because they were being used in executions. This leaves executioners with Midazolam, the current drug being challenged at the Supreme Court. Here’s the problem: Midazolam is an anti-anxiety sedative, not an anesthetic.
Why does this matter? While supporters of the death penalty blindly contend lethal injection is “quick and painless,” Midazolam has lead to recent, highly publicized botched executions. Oklahoma’s Clayton Lockett “writhed, groaned, and convulsed” during his execution. The prison staff was forced to stop Lockett’s execution only to watch him die of a heart attack almost 45 minutes later. Charles Warner, whose execution was originally delayed as a result of Lockett, was conscious during his execution and heard saying, “My body is on fire.” Ohio’s Dennis McGuire received a two-drug concoction containing Midazolam and died after 26 minutes of clenching his fists and gasping for air. In the Glossip case, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether the possibility of such agonizing deaths renders the use of Midazolam unconstitutional.
As we wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling on Midazolam, litigation continues in the case of New Hampshire’s only death row inmate, Michael Addison. If executed, Addison would be the first person to be put to death in the state since 1939. Ignoring the fact that New Hampshire’s old death row is now a storage closet for Sierra Mist and the fact that New Hampshire would have to first spend an estimated $1.7 million to build a death chamber, how does the upcoming Supreme Court decision affect the Granite State?
It does not, but let me explain:
New Hampshire’s statute authorizing the death penalty is unusually specific. New Hampshire’s statute dictates “death shall be inflicted by . . . an ultra-short acting barbiturate [.]” Midazolam, the drug at issue in Glossip, is a benzodiazepine, not a barbiturate. So under current New Hampshire law, the state cannot use Midazolam in executions regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in Glossip. This leaves New Hampshire caught up in the same dilemma as other death penalty states: the barbiturates authorized for use in executions under New Hampshire law are no longer available for use in executions.
Even if they were available, the use of barbiturates is still barbaric. States have been botching lethal injections since 1982, when barbiturates were still available. Indeed, every known method of carrying out executions is barbaric and consists of unjustified retribution. The Granite State allows for two of those heinous methods: a seemingly obsolete form of lethal injection and death by hanging. Will New Hampshire be the next state to turn to poorly regulated compound pharmacies for our barbiturate supply? Maybe the State will just resort to the medieval practice of hanging for Mr. Addison. Although, even that method might prove difficult since the State demolished the gallows back in 1992.
Do we want all eyes on us for a botched execution? Are we ready to spend $1.7 million on a death chamber for one man? Is our Department of Corrections ready to tie a rope around a man’s neck for the first time since 1939? We should not waste any more time on these questions. New Hampshire needs to climb out of the mud and leave this legal quagmire behind.
New Hampshire could—and should—follow the path of Nebraska and abolish the death penalty once and for all. In 2014, the N.H. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to repeal the death penalty by a vote of 225-104. Governor Maggie Hassan was ready to sign that bill. However, the Senate failed to pass that bill by one vote and tabled the bill for a later date.
What are we waiting for? There is never going to be a humane method of execution. The death penalty will always be a cruel and unusual form of punishment. Don’t wait any longer, Granite Staters. The time to abolish this barbaric act is now.
By Stephanie Ramirez

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