SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said lethal injection was a “dishonest” attempt to disguise the brutal nature of capital punishment.
Kozinski first wrote of his distaste for lethal injection in a decision Monday, even while arguing against delaying the execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood III in Phoenix. Wood gasped for breath for more than 90 minutes and took nearly two hours to die Wednesday after receiving a lethal injection for killing his estranged girlfriend and her father.
The conservative federal appeals judge said the nation’s third lethal injection execution to go awry in six months underscores his call to bring back firing squads. Kozinski said properly trained firing squads are a “foolproof” way to quickly execute an inmate and avoid complications surrounding lethal injection.
In a dissent to Monday’s ruling that put Wood’s execution on hold but was overturned by the Supreme Court, Kozinski wrote: “Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful – like something any one of us might experience in our final moments. But executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality. Nor should we. If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”
On Thursday, Kozinski said that he never liked lethal injection, a method that has been dogged by drug shortages and legal challenges. He said firing squads would never be hampered by a shortage of guns or bullets. “I’ve always thought executions should be executions,” he told the AP, “not medical procedures.”
Kozinski said he supports capital punishment but states and the federal government should abandon lethal injection and adopt a different method. He mentioned the guillotine as another “foolproof” method but said he doubted the public would accept that form of execution.
Kozinski is a reliable conservative vote on the left-leaning 9th Circuit and is known for his well-written and often-provocative opinions. He wrote about grappling with a penalty case for The New Yorker magazine in 1997. He was appointed to the 9th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
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