There is no pretty way of executing someone. No matter how sophisticated we get, capital punishment is an ugly scene that tends to go awry from time to time. The last person executed in Maine, Daniel Wilkinson on Nov. 21, 1885, had been convicted of murder when he bumped into and shot a constable while running away from another police officer after a foiled burglary attempt. His death was too untidy for public consumption, however. Something went wrong with the noose. He wriggled there for 15 minutes before strangling to death. His last words to the Sheriff were, "You fellas get $50 a day for such work!" Capital punishment was outlawed in Maine in 1887 after a 4-yr. period of having been reinstated and during which time the homicide rate increased dramatically.
The State has discovered a new method of execution. It is neat, efficient and random. The blogging public loves it as just deserts for getting caught at something, anything. It is called Solitary Confinement. Solitary Confinement practices in Maine have been vigorously defended by corrections officials as complying with "nationally accepted standards." The recent record suggests that those "nationally accepted standards" may signal a lot of hasty cremations nationwide.
On October 5, 2006, prisoner Ryan Rideout, a 24-year-old with a history of mental illness and serving a 17 month sentence for burglary, hanged himself by tying a bed sheet to the sprinkler head in his solitary confinement cell. He felt encouraged to do so by a guard who taunted him. The judgment-proof former guard, recently sued by Rideout's family and defended by the Attorney General's Office, settled for $500,000. The State refuses to pay.
On April 24, 2009, prisoner Sheldon Weinstein died in solitary confinement of a ruptured spleen approximately two hours after I requested that he be given a roll of toilet paper. He had been using his pillowcase. He was cremated after being reported dead by "natural causes."
On Nov. 27, 2010, prisoner Victor Valdez, whisked from solitary to the infirmary at Maine State Prison, was declared dead of unknown causes that shall remain unknown. His body was cremated with no medical examination and no autopsy.
On April 10, 2010, prisoner George Magee, placed in Androscoggin County solitary confinement for observation, ripped up his bed sheet and hanged himself in full view of the guard shack, manned by those apparently only casually committed to the task of "observation."
The efficiency of this method of capital punishment by "nationally accepted standards" is riveting. It is random; there are no costly appeals; there are no capital punishment protestors gathering in the middle of the night. The State can prolong its "investigation" of itself until the public grows weary. The shroud of secrecy that calls to timid prison staff to circle the wagons provides cover.