Critics Call Last-Minute Execution Delays Cruel, Unusual Punishment


Twice in September, Richard Glossip ate his last meal and prepared himself for the execution chamber in Oklahoma. Both times, his execution was stopped hours before he was supposed to die, NPR reports. The U.S. Supreme Court halted a previous execution in January. Last year, a federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional, partially because of excessive delays. An appeals court overruled that decision. Other states are struggling to acquire execution drugs because pharmaceutical companies are refusing to supply them. Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas and Ohio have all put executions on hold in the last month.

Glossip’s attorney, Don Knight, says repeatedly pulling his client back from the cusp of death at the last minute is cruel and unusual punishment. “When you see torture, is it torture? It looks like torture. I would wish that they would stop torturing Mr. Glossip. I wish they would stop trying to kill Mr. Glossip,” Knight says. Cornell law Prof. John Blume says, “Going through this repeatedly definitely has a tremendous emotional, psychological toll on an individual.” Capital punishment advocates blame the lengthy delays on defense attorneys, who inundate the court system with appeals. Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, thinks repeated last-minute stays are torture. He doesn’t believe courts will do anything about it. “When a stay of execution is the product of court proceedings, those are necessary proceedings. So yes, it is cruel but it’s not unnecessarily cruel in the eyes of the courts,” he says.

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