The "Machinery of Death" ground fitfully with starts and stops yesterday, finally achieving the goal is was built for: the death of an inmate on death row.
5,562 days after Judge Marc Schumacher sentenced Juan Carlos Chavez to death, the Machinery of Death executed its purpose last night in Starke, Florida. But not smoothly. It never goes smoothly. There were by our count, nine separate appeals in the State and Federal courts. At least three petitions in the last two weeks. The last petition to the Florida Supreme Court was denied on the day before Chavez was executed, the court concluding that Chavez was engaged in tactical maneuvering because he was aware of the issues he raised before he raised them on the week of his execution. Simultaneously, Chavez's attorneys filed petitions with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta (which for all intents and purposes was shut down because of the winter storm striking the east coast) and the United States Supreme Court.
As the appointed time for Chavez's execution came and went (6pm yesterday) Chavez remained in the death cell next to the death chamber; Jimmy Ryce's Father and Brother sat silently as witnesses in the empty death chamber, along with prosecutors, police detectives, and one juror who sat on the case. They must have been wondering whether this date with death would be delayed again? Would they have to leave, unfulfilled, as the man who caused them so much pain, "triumphed" one more time, using the justice to system to mock them just by staying alive?
Finally, about an hour later, the Supreme Court denied a stay. Chavez was strapped to a gurney, and drugs- the subject of his final appeals- started flowing into his body. How ironic that the specific type and mix of drugs used to end a death row inmate's life have become the subject of such intense litigation throughout the nation. The issue confronting the courts: will the drugs painlessly kill the condemned?
Think about this logic: the state wanted to kill Chavez for his unspeakably horrific acts. But until they got to kill him their way- painlessly- they gave him health care better than most Americans get. If Chavez had tried to kill himself even an hour before his execution, they would have employed as much medical expertise and technology available to the State to save his life- so they could kill him their way, on their time schedule.
The Chavez case is a hard case to talk about. And it is hard to argue against the death penalty for a person who did what Chavez did. But experience has shown us that the use of one or two outlier cases to make public policy usually ends in disastrous and unintended consequences. Would it have been so bad if Chavez had just wasted his life away in his small cell, dying a little bit every day, forgotten by the world, left only to ponder his unspeakably horrible criminal acts?
We ask questions we are not sure of the answers to.
We only know this: the machinery of death will continue to creak along like an old rusted machine built a hundred years ago; starting fitfully, grinding into motion, doing was it was built to do, just not very efficiently, not very predictably. It's nothing to be proud of, but in the end it does what it was built to do.
May Jimmy Ryce rest in peace and may his long suffering Father and Brother find some peace and some slight easing of the pain they have carried in their hearts since the day Jimmy was abducted, be eased, even if just a little.
See You In Court.
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