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From Lucasville, Ohio on May 2nd came news of the macabre execution of Joseph L. Clark. Clark was dispatched from Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. In 1984 he killed two men during an eight-day crime spree. He spent the next 22 of his 57 years waiting for Tuesday’s “correction.”

But Clark’s was no ordinary execution. The procedure began at 10 AM. The protocol calls for two intravenous lines, one primary and one back-up. It took 22 minutes for the technicians to find one good site. Apparently deciding that one vein was close enough, the technicians forged ahead, committed to the grim task. The chemicals of death began to flow.

After three or four minutes, Clark raised his head and exclaimed, “It don’t work!” Officials quickly closed the curtain between the death chamber and the witnesses, apparently sensitive to the difference between killing a man and looking inept while doing it.

Fifty minutes later the technicians found another injection site. They reopened the curtain, and proceeded with the execution. Clark was pronounced dead at 11:26 AM.

The fault for the botched execution was assigned to Clark himself. Officials at once theorized that Clark’s veins collapsed due to drug abuse several decades ago. That may be true, but the theory asks us to believe that none of the other 850 people executed by this method have been intravenous drug users.

Prison officials did not fault themselves, despite violating their own two-IV protocol. Prisons Director Terry Collins said, “The team here is a very professional team. They’re doing a very, very difficult job under difficult circumstances.” That may be true too, but on Tuesday, the team did its job very, very badly.

In the largest sense, though, the fault was neither Clark’s nor the state’s. The fault rests with us, the people. We allow states to kill our fellow human beings in our names; indeed, we often require it. But this is conduct unworthy of a great people. How can we Americans, champions of human rights, countenance such barbarism? What will it take for us to rise above it?

The greatness of a people shows itself through compassion for victims and survivors, not merely by exacting revenge on perpetrators. Let's give killers the life without parole sentence they deserve and redirect the money that would be spent on decades-long death row appeals to the direct benefit of survivors.

Despite the evidence, we persist with the vindictive and short-sighted view that capital punishment accomplishes something more than retribution. It doesn’t.

Joseph Clark said as much himself: “It don’t work.”
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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)
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