The Pursuit of Torture

On Wednesday this week, Jeffrey Wogenstahl’s fellow inmate, Alva Campbell, is set to die.

As a child, Alva Campbell was forced by his father to play games of torture. One was the electrical current game: all the children held hands with their father while he stuck his finger in an electrical socket and one of the children held a faucet to act as a ground; all felt the shock of the electricity flowing through them.

Constantly subjected to this and other abuse, torture would have been internalized as normal by Campbell. The state attempted to support him in later childhood, but by placing him in “dysfunctional and often dangerous environments” it instead added to his emotional instability.

Tragically, Campbell moved into adulthood still broken by his childhood experience of violence, danger, instability and torture. And in this broken condition he committed murder.[i]

On Wednesday, staff working for the state of Ohio will attempt to kill Campbell by injecting him with three drugs. His frailty could cause complications: during a rehearsal staff could not find a vein suitable for inserting an IV.

Even more problematic are two of the drugs, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride: Ohio had promised to stop using them for lethal injections, but then reinstated them, deftly avoiding litigation regarding their constitutionality. The function of the remaining drug, midazolam, is to mask the extreme pain caused by the other two drugs; yet credible experts have testified that midazolam is unsuitable for this purpose, and experience in other states confirms its inadequacy.[ii]

To minimize his potential torture, Campbell has asked to be killed by firing squad instead; his request has been refused.

Soon Campbell’s life will have come full circle. Torture awaited him when he was born; torture accompanied him throughout childhood and beyond. And on Wednesday torture inflicted by the state will pursue him to his final moment of life. 

It is time for “a civil, thoughtful conversation among the American people, legislatures, and the courts—on the meaning of the [Eighth] Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.[iii]

Update: The killing of Alva Campbell was delayed after officials were unable to locate a suitable vein. He was “poked and prodded” for nearly two hours before the decison to delay was made. He has been given a new execution date of June 5, 2019.

[i] Minutes of the Parole Board meeting, Re Alva Campbell Jr., CCI #A354-963 on October 12, 2017, 
[ii] Dissent, Karen Nelson Moore, United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit, In Re: Ohio Execution Protocol, No 17-3076, June 28 2017. For instance:
There is significant evidence that the first drug, midazolam, cannot prevent someone from feeling [immense]  pain.” (page 16)
“[T]here no question that the State has publicly taken inconsistent positions, concealed facts from Plaintiffs to gain strategic advantage, and attempted at every turn to deny Plaintiffs an opportunity to try their constitutional claims… The majority has ensured that the State will be rewarded [for such behaviour]”. (page 40) 
[iii] Dissent, Jane B. Stranch, United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit, In Re: Ohio Execution Protocol, No 17-3076, June 28 2017, page 42.
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