Roughly ten months ago, Charles Frederick Warner was executed in Oklahoma. As with many capital crime cases, this one had been dragging through the courts for years and the actual execution had been delayed multiple times before the Supreme Court finally gave the state the green light to go ahead. Now, all these months later, there are still some in the progressive community who are stewing over the result. (Huffington Post)

You need five Supreme Court justices to halt an execution. In January, Charles Warner got four. Oklahoma executed him that same day.

But the court did something strange eight days later: It agreed to hear Warner’s case. For that, you only need four votes. That case, initially docketed as Warner v. Gross, was posthumously renamed Glossip v. Gross, one of the highlights of the last Supreme Court term.

No one knows which of the nine justices voted to hear the Warner case, but it was probably the same ones who would have spared his life a week earlier. Dissenting from the one-sentence order that refused to keep Warner alive a little longer, the four justices said a few things about Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol. They were none too pleased.

Apparently the big complaint here was over the specific chemicals used to execute Warner. The state used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride. The “mistake” in this case resulted in the execution taking roughly 30 minutes and the prisoner complaining of severe discomfort rather than being fully asleep. I’m led to believe that this is considered a problem in some liberal circles. But let’s look back to the reporting of Diana Baldwin at News OK which gave some background about what landed Mr. Warner in the death chamber in the first place.

Death row inmate Charles Frederick Warner was convicted Monday night of raping and murdering his live-in girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby in 1997.

This was the second time an Oklahoma County District Court jury has handed down a guilty verdict against Warner for first-degree murder and first-degree rape in the Aug. 22, 1997, death of Adriana Waller.

Let’s just let that sink in for a moment. “…raping and murdering his live-in girlfriend’s 11-month-old baby.”

If you read the clinical details of the event they are beyond horrifying. Adriana was an eleven month old baby. Warner convinced the mother to leave her in his care while she went to run errands. When the mother was gone he sodomized the child and then beat her to death. There was never much dispute over the fact of his guilt, only procedural motions protesting the technical details of the trial. And now we have some pundits who are upset that the method used to see him on his way out of this world was too harsh.

So what? Rather than an exhaustive debate over chemical compounds, perhaps it’s high time for a fresh look at the phrase “cruel and unusual” and an opportunity exists to see how that language needs to be applied in the context of the times. That portion of the 8th Amendment was taken nearly in whole cloth from the the English Bill of Rights of 1689. It was directed primarily at the courts, not the legislature, and allowed for all manner of punishments (terminal or otherwise) provided they were “known and in practice.” (There’s a fairly good explanation of this here.) In other words, if it was an accepted practice of the day to execute criminals by piling heavy stones on their chest until they expired (which was actually done in rare cases in the time of the Founders) then that was “known” and could be done. Conversely, the judge wouldn’t be allowed to set that aside and sentence you to be cast into a pit full of poisonous vipers; unless, of course, the legislature had already established the poisonous viper pit for other uses.

This coddling of prisoners if a fairly recent invention. With that in mind, I would ask the reader to consider the essential nature of capital punishment for a moment. I understand that many are opposed to it on general principles, but if you accept that it is a valid choice available to the court, then it must serve some useful purpose if we are to engage in it. There are two general schools of thought for justifying the death penalty. One is that it acts as both appropriate vengeance against the perpetrator and protects the public from their creating any more havoc. (The recidivism rate following capital punishment remains at zero.) The other justification is the argument that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to others. Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, I think the idea needs a fresh look.

We see too many cases of maniacs committing “suicide by cop.” There also seems to be a rather cavalier attitude among some convicts who are interviewed for Justice Department studies, showing that getting on death row establishes some sort of esteem among criminals. And why would it not? The appeals process makes it likely that most convicts won’t face the bitter end for decades – if at all – and they know that we’ll be bending over backward to make sure that they shuffle off this mortal coil in their sleep with the least discomfort possible.

How much of a deterrent is that when you stop to think about it?

If you truly want to establish some motivation for criminals to stop and think before subjecting society to unimaginable horrors, perhaps the punishment in the 21st century needs to carry a bit more sting to it and be more fitting of the crime. Let’s not forget that the prisoner in question here ripped open the internal organs of a little baby by sodomizing her and then beat her in the abdomen with his fist until she died screaming in pain between one an three hours later according to the coroner. Did this man really deserve to die peacefully in his sleep? Even assuming that he complained that “his blood was on fire” during the procedure, didn’t he still get a far faster and easier passage into oblivion than his helpless, tiny victim? Perhaps the knowledge that he was going to be put on a public stage and have slabs of stone slowly stacked on his chest until his organs burst over a period of hours, or at least wind up dancing on the end of a rope might have given him pause before he destroyed that baby.

Dark thoughts, I know, but we’re talking about monsters walking around in the guise of human beings here.