The Texas execution of Marcus Cotton on March 3–the eighth lethal injection in Texas so far this year–was regimented, ritualized, and routine, says the Chicago Tribune. From his last meal–chicken-fried steak and macaroni and cheese–to his last breath–the 29-year-old Cotton left the world uneventfully, like most of the 320 other Death Row prisoners Texas has executed since 1976, when capital punishment resumed in the U.S. after a court-mandated delay.
Texas has performed more than one-third of all the executions carried out in the U.S. in the last 28 years, and the state’s execution chamber, a small, brick-walled room painted hospital green, is by far the nation’s busiest. Last year, an average of two condemned inmates each month were strapped onto the stainless steel gurney, covered with a white sheet and briskly injected with three lethal drugs. So far this year, the pace is even faster. Prosecutors and defense attorneys, death penalty supporters and opponents and even inmates and guards agree that Texas has evolved an exceedingly efficient bureaucracy for putting people to death. “Yes, it does get automated, because we do it so much,” said Jim Willett, the former warden at the 19th Century Walls prison–where the execution chamber is located–who oversaw nearly 90 executions before his retirement in 2001.
Texas prison authorities bristle at any analogy likening Death Row to an assembly line. “I’ve often heard people refer to our system as an execution machine, but that’s not the way it is,” said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “Texans are not bloodthirsty people. We don’t look forward to executing anyone. But it’s the law in Texas.”
In North Carolina, meanwhile, defense arguments that inmates might experience intense pain by lethal injection have helped delay executions there and in two other states in the past three months, reports the Charlotte Observer. Lawyers have filed similar challenges in at least eight other states. The challenges pose questions about lethal injection that may be resolved in a pending Supreme Court case. North Carolina corrections officials argue that lethal injection provides for a “quick and painless death” and that critics can’t prove otherwise.
Foes lack examples like electric-chair opponents had in Florida in 1990 and 1997, when smoke and flames could be seen near inmates’ heads They are compiling affidavits around the country from death-chamber witnesses who believe the twitching they’ve seen during lethal injections is a sign of agony.
The claims follow the pattern of the last 100 years, in which executions have evolved from hangings to shock to injections, in an attempt to find the least painful way to execute a killer. North Carolina made its latest change after Fountain Odom, a former state senator from Charlotte, watched the gas execution in 1994 of killer David Lawson, who pulled against his restraints as he died, screaming: “I am human!” Four years later, the state made lethal injection its only method of capital punishment.