Death Penalty Walking

The Supreme Court prepares to hear a case on lethal injections that could cause us to rethink our haphazard system of capital punishment

David J. Phillip / AP

The "death bed" in the death chamber is separated by bars from the witness viewing room at the Walls Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville, Texas

On Jan. 7, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a pair of Kentucky lawsuits challenging the lethal three-drug cocktail used in most U.S. executions. The gist of the cases is that the drug combination is unnecessarily complicated, using three chemicals when one would do, and that when this procedure is administered by undertrained prison officials, there's an unconstitutional risk that something will go wrong. Instead of going to a quiet death, an inmate could experience terrifying paralysis followed by excruciating pain.

In a perfect world, perhaps, the government wouldn't wait 30 years and several hundred executions to determine whether...

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