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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

An execution gone awry

For critics of the death penalty, no method of government-sanctioned execution will ever be acceptable. Certainly opponents of capital punishment have a right to engage in endless debate about what they see as its inhumanity.

But Tuesday's technical problems experienced by the Ohio Department of Corrections while administering the death sentence to a double murderer from Lucas County is not cause for abolishing lethal injection in the state.

The prolonged struggle to dispense a mixture of lethal chemicals to Joseph Clark was an unfortunate aberration at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville. But though it took longer than it should have, justice was served. The 57-year-old condemned man killed two men and wounded a third during a crime spree over several days in Toledo 22 years ago.

Liberals may find it hard to believe that the widow of one of the men shot to death by Clark said she "did not shed a single tear" over his execution. But we don't.

Even after all this time, Mary Ellen (Manning) Gordon has no sympathy for the executed killer of her late husband, David Manning. And who can blame her? Who can absolve hm of the cold-blooded killing just because he abused drugs, like many others in the criminal justice system? So what?

Mr. Manning's widow called Clark "a perfect candidate" to receive the death penalty. That his execution Tuesday didn't proceed smoothly is of little concern to the survivors of his victims.

Still, it attracted national attention when the execution team at the prison ran into trouble preparing Clark for his fate.

Initially the team labored to find a usable vein in Clark's arm to start the intravenous line carrying the chemicals, a not uncommon problem among condemned criminals with a history of drug abuse.

Then a vein apparently collapsed as the process was beginning. As the problems continued, Clark shook his head repeatedly and told his executioners, "It don't work."

The problem was finally resolved behind closed curtains. Technicians found a vein in his other arm and succeeded in a second attempt to deliver the injection. The execution, which usually takes about 10 minutes to complete, consumed nearly 90 minutes because of the physical difficulties encountered.

That, of course, prompted critics to renew protests about the barbarity of it all and demand an immediate end to all capital punishment.

Lethal injection, now the method of choice in the majority of states which impose the death penalty, is under legal attack as cruel and inhumane punishment. If the protocol needs revision, if a different combination of drugs would resolve that concern, then that should occur.

But the deterrent effect of state-imposed executions is not to be minimized. While jail time seldom deters hardened criminals, perhaps Clark's execution will give them something to think about.

The death penalty might not effectively discourage crimes of passion, but it should give pause to those who plan and premeditate their horrible crimes.

Even Clark acknowledged as much in his rambling final statement: "If you live by the sword you die by the sword."

As it should be.

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