Even though the media flurry over South Dakota’s most recent executions has died down, capital punishment is far from a dead issue (forgive the play on words). The Rapid City Journal reports:
A death-row inmate in South Dakota is challenging the state’s single-drug execution protocol.
Charles Russell Rhines appeared in 7th Circuit Court on Tuesday to hear recorded testimony from health care experts about the one-drug method.
Rhines has been sentenced to death for the 1992 fatal stabbing of 22-year-old Donnivan Schaeffer during the burglary of a Rapid City doughnut shop. His conviction and death sentence was upheld in September, and now Rhines is challenging the constitutionality of the state’s one-drug protocol.
SD is one of six states that has used the one-drug protocol (pentobarbital) in an execution. The one-drug protocol became more prevalent after companies that produced the drugs used in the three-drug protocol halted manufacture of those drugs, precisely because they were being used in executions. (Indeed, the Dutch manufacturer Lundbeck has blocked sales to the U.S. of pentobarbital because capital punishment violates international human rights.)
The problem is that lethal injection, despite claims to the contrary, might well be considered cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. A 2007 study found that lethal injection could cause “potentially aware inmates [to] die through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation. Thus the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.”
It is unclear what the outcome of Rhines’ case will be – lethal injection has repeatedly withstood Eighth Amendment challenges. Far from trying to find more “humane” methods of execution, we at the SDPJC believe we should be searching for more humane methods of dealing with our criminals than taking their lives under the auspices of the state.