Deborah Golden is a staff attorney with Human Rights Defense Center and an expert in prisoner human rights litigation. She has previously taught courses on the human rights of inmates at the University of Virginia School of Law and Georgetown University.
"What these men are saying in their lawsuit is that the means the Tennessee currently uses for execution — either a particular three-drug protocol or the electric chair — both have the potential to cause extensive pain and suffering," Golden told Loud & Clear on Radio Sputnik.
In 2015, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that lethal injection "may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake."
In the lawsuit, the four Tennesseans demonstrate that the first drug used in the lethal injection process causes the body's "lungs to fill with fluid from the inside. A person cannot physically react, but feels the sensation as they are drowning in their own bodily fluid. On top of that, they are then given a shot of another chemical that causes them to feel like they are on fire from the inside out — and, again, cannot react until such time as they finally pass away," said Golden, who is familiar with the 200-page lawsuit.
"One of the methods they suggested as a ready alternative if they have to be put to death is a firing squad, which, according to their experts, is a faster and more humane way to put somebody to death. The blood pressure instantly drops; the person is unconscious and does not feel pain," the attorney explained.
The last execution of a prisoner in Tennessee took place in early August. The process to end inmate Billy Ray Irick's life, carried out via lethal injection, lasted 16 minutes longer than expected, newspaper The Tennessean reported, and the man was seen gasping for air as his face turned purple before he died.
"The death penalty is riddled with discrimination. We know that it discriminates against people of color. It discriminates against poor people. We have seen in recent years many people be exonerated with the advancements in DNA [technology], but without the advancements from science, these people would not have been exonerated. We know the death penalty procedures are not foolproof. We know there are innocent people put to death," the attorney explained.
"It makes us an outlier among our peers; nobody else [in the Western world] puts people to death for their crimes. No other state takes the position that it has the right to kill its own citizens," said Golden.
A majority of US states, 30, still have the death penalty, while 20 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have abolished it. Pew Research Center reported in April that 11 of the states that allow the death penalty have not put someone to death in a decade.
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