January 05, 2007

Condemned Man Tortured to Death in Florida

Have you ever asked yourself what it is that makes us a “civilized society?” Just what does the word “civilized” mean? According to Webster’s New World Dictionary it means “to bring or to come out of a primitive or savage condition to a high level of social organization and of cultural and scientific development.” But where do we draw the line between what is “civilized” and what is not? Who decides where that line is drawn? Do we as individuals get to choose or should a society – especially a democratic society – establish some minimal definition that must be applied to all society.

Here in America we are a Constitutional Democracy. As such, our Constitution establishes specific fundamental rights that protect the individual from excessive governmental actions, which include the right to be protected against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Recently, this particular right became the focus of national media attention when Florida botched the execution of Angel Diaz on Wednesday December 13th, 2006.

Diaz was convicted on a capital murder charge under questionable circumstances. A native of Puerto Rico, Diaz barely spoke any English. The evidence that led to the capital charges was at best barely even minimal. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical or forensic evidence that he committed any crime, and no confession. Diaz has consistently protested his innocence and other than relying on the jury’s verdict the state never presented any further evidence of his alleged guilt.

At trial, even though he was barely able to speak English, Diaz was effectively forced to represent himself. As is all too common in capital cases Diaz was originally appointed a lawyer who was not capable of providing competent representation. Upon realizing this lawyer was incompetent Diaz asked the trial judge to appoint a new lawyer – but the judge refused. Unwilling to go to trial with an incompetent lawyer Diaz then exercised his right to represent himself – an obviously fatal mistake as Diaz had no training in law and unable to speak or understand English the entire trial was rendered a pretense and Diaz was quickly convicted and condemned to death.

Through the years his appeals were denied. By last year all state and federal appeals were fully exhausted and Diaz became death warrant eligible. Shortly before Thanksgiving Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed an active death warrant on Diaz, scheduling his execution for Wednesday December 13th, 2006 – a timely Christmas sacrifice.

According to numerous eyewitness accounts of the execution of Angel Diaz, these witnesses watched from not more than ten feet away as Diaz “grimaced in pain before dying 34 minutes after receiving the first dose of chemicals.” (Ron Word “Man Executed for Miami Bar Slaying takes 34 Minutes to Die” Gainesville Sun December 14, 2006) and that “it looked like Diaz was in a lot of pain … he was gasping for air 11 minutes.” (Executed Man Takes 34 Minutes To Die” St. Petersburg Times, December 14, 2006)

Immediately following this execution a Dept. of Corrections spokesperson told the media that the unusually prolonged execution was the result of Mr. Diaz having kidney problems that interfered with the lethal drugs administered. This quickly proved to be a deliberately fabricated lie intended to cover up incompetence.

By Friday December 15th, 2006 Governor Jeb Bush announced an immediate moratorium on all further executions until a commission could look into the Diaz execution and determine whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.

Slowly pieces of the truth were revealed – Diaz did not have any kidney problems. Rather, the prison personnel responsible for inserting the needle into Diaz’s arm into which that lethal dose of chemicals would then be injected failed to insert the needle into the vein itself. The dept. of Corrections refuses to say whether a qualified physician participated in preparing Diaz for execution and the identities of all those involved are confidential, protected from being identified by law.

As a result of the improper insertion of the needle actually penetrated into the soft tissue of Diaz’s arm rather then the vein and when the three drugs were then pumped into his still conscious body he was not rendered unconscious. He visibly struggled for an extended period of time before an unprecedented second dose of drugs was then pumped into him.

A subsequent medical autopsy revealed that Mr. Diaz suffered almost foot long chemical burns on both arms where the drugs were pumped in. Knowing that Mr. Diaz was still conscious during that time, there can be no question that Mr. Diaz suffered a prolonged and excruciating painful death – that Mr. Diaz was quite literally physically tortured to death.

In the days that followed even pro-death penalty politicians were appalled by what happened and publicly supported a moratorium until it could be determined what went wring. Both present Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current State Attorney General (soon to be governor) Charlie Crist declared that this matter must be looked into and resolved before any more executions would be carried out.

But what bothered me was when many of the “average citizens” were asked about this botched execution they said in their opinion the condemned man should suffer and that execution should not be “humane.” On a local Jacksonville television station one particular man said that we as a society should deliberately make the condemned suffer the most painful death possible as that is what “punishment” is for and it would send a stronger message to deter others from committing similar crimes.

As a Christian and as a member of a presumably “civilized society” I’ve got a problem with those opinions – I think it says a lot about the kind of person they are that they would advocate the deliberate infliction of torture upon another human being. To paraphrase Nietzsche, when one deals with monsters regularly the greatest threat is not the monster itself, but of becoming the monster.

It is too easy to simply say that a condemned man should experience as much pain as can possibly be inflicted under the mentality that these “killers” has no problem inflicting pain upon their victims. If these people see these condemned killers as monsters because of what they did, then doesn’t deliberately advocating the same thing upon them make these people no less of a monster? Is that the kind of society we want to be?

Many of those who do advocate the deliberate infliction of torture upon the condemned even dare call themselves “Christians” and attempt to justify their sickness by quoting the Old Testament phrase “an eye for an eye” law. Wasn’t the point of Jesus’ sacrifice to bring about a new Biblical law of love and forgiveness, of “turning the other cheek,” and showing compassion to those who are even our enemies? We can’t have it both ways – that same Old Testament book of law demands that those committing adultery be taken out in public and stoned to death. If we as a society want to live by Old Testament law, then let’s commit to the whole law and not just parts of it we find convenient to justify our own sickness.

Recently I read an excellent book written by a lawyer who was once a strong supporter of the death penalty. Now a catholic lay minister he spent years studying Old Testament law as it applies to contemporary Christian society in respect to the death penalty. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who remains confused about the application of Old Testament “eye for an eye” law in a contemporary Christian society. The book is titled “The Biblical Truth About America’s Death Penalty” by Dale Recinella.

As long as we have the death penalty it is inevitable that innocent people will be condemned to death even executed. See, Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man. In Florida over 22 men and women have already been exonerated and released from death row after being wrongfully convicted and condemned to death.

For those who want to advocate physical torture as part of the punishment of death, do they also believe that the Old Testament law – the same chapter that preaches and eye for an eye – that demands that those responsible for convicting and innocent man should themselves be out to death? Maybe if we start subjecting prosecutors, who are responsible for wrongfully convicting and condemning innocent people, to slow torturous deaths then the integrity of the judicial system would be protected. See, Prosecutorial Misconduct: Does Immunity Invite Injustice?

As a civilized society we demand accountability against those who violate our laws. But equally so, as a matter of social conscience and as an example to the world itself we also demand society refrains from the unnecessary infliction or cruel and unusual punishment. Those who would advocate anything less becomes nothing less than monsters themselves… that’s the difference between a civilized society and uncivilized individuals.