Death Row Inmates Challenge Lethal Injection
The Show-Me State ranks fourth in the number of prisoners executed since Missouri reinstated its death penalty. But, four inmates are challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment, which the U.S. Constitution prohibits.
It was a brutal crime that shook Kansas City 17 years ago. An innocent, 15-year-old girl kidnapped, raped and murdered by two drug-crazed men who pleaded guilty and received death sentences.
17 years later, Michael Taylor still sits on Missouri's death row, fighting for his life. He's just one of dozens of inmates in the U.S. who are appealing their sentences to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Missouri uses three chemicals to carry out the death penalty. The first, sodium pentathal, is an anesthetic also used in operating rooms. The second, pancuronium bromide, is a paralytic which immobilizes the body. The third, potassium chloride, is a chemical which stops the heart from beating.
Taylor and other prisoners claim potassium chloride causes pain by burning through veins before reaching the heart. They also argue sodium pentathal is not strong enough to mask the pain.
But Dr. Joel Johnson, who heads the anesthesiology department at Columbia's University Hospital, said chemicals aren't painful, unless they're administered incorrectly.
"From an anesthesia standpoint, we have experts that do anesthesia everyday. They are experts at placing IVs, making sure the solution that's going into the intravenous line is running, and running freely," he explained. "And the problems we have discussed that may exist may be due to people who are not as practiced at this as an anesthesiologist would be."
However, anesthesiologists can not administer lethal injections because licensed doctors take an oath to preserve life. Even if lethal injection is painful, Janel Harrison doesn't consider that bad because Taylor is one of the men who admitted killing her daughter.
"Quite frankly, if they have a little bit of pain, then so be it," she declared. "Their victim had a lot more pain than they ever did, and she suffered a lot longer than they ever will. So, it just doesn't matter to me if there's a little bit of pain."
But, Harrison isn't surprised by Taylor's appeals.
"I can understand his family trying to do anything to save his life because that's what families are supposed to do," she admitted. "They've been able to see the man they thought they were raising. But this was not the same person back in '89, and if he had never been caught, who knows if he ever would have changed and appreciated his family. But you can tell he loves his family and his family loves him, and that's good that they got to see that."
Linda Taylor has fought for 17 years to save her son from being executed.
"I can tell my kids and my husband, 'If this happened to me, please, whatever you do, do not seek the death penalty. I would like to see this person locked up for the rest of their life so they won't be able to hurt anyone else, but please do not seek the death penalty,'" she explained. "And I would not do it for any of my kids or grandkids. I pray that that never happens, but I know for a fact I would not be asking for the death penalty."
Jeff Stack, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an anti-death penalty group, said "There's nothing we can do to bring that loved one back into existence. If we could, this would be a different issue altogether, you know, but we can't. We kill a killer, a person who committed a murder, nothing really happens as far as bringing back the lost loved one."
Harrison responded that severe crimes deserve severe punishment.
"When you commit the ultimate crime, which has to be taking another life, there has to be an ultimate penalty," she continued. "Why should they get life without parole, when that's basically what they would have had if they had let her live? But they decided they didn't want a witness, they didn't want to go back to jail, and now they're fighting for their lives in jail? When you take a life, there has to be an ultimate penalty. And I've always believed that, even before this happened."
Michael Taylor said, "Do I wish that Mrs. Harrison and Mr. Harrison forgive me? I would hope that they would find it in their hearts to understand, as a religious person, that we are basically taught to be forgiving. But to forgive what occured, they'll never be able to forgive what occurred. My actions are what I'm in prison for."
So, Taylor hopes and waits for another court hearing to finally decide his fate.
"I've been described as a murderer, or the worst of the worst because of my crime," he said, "and that's not a true picture of me. Yes I did, I committed a very bad crime, but that's not a true picture of myself."
A judge will schedule Taylor's next hearing this summer. Missouri maintains Taylor received a fair trial and punishment he deserves. Taylor and his lawyer hope the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear their case.