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Ronnie Lee Gardner: Is Utah firing squad a more humane execution?

Ronnie Lee Gardner, who is scheduled to be executed by firing squad in Utah just past midnight local time Friday, raises questions about the relative humaneness of methods of execution.

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Leaving aside the personal motivations for choosing to be shot, which some have suggested might be for political reasons, Cotton says the pain factor is unknowable. Lethal injection takes time, and is achieved in three stages, Cotton points out. The first injection makes the person unconscious. A second injection paralyzes muscles so they can’t move. And a third stops the heart.

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“There is no way of knowing how much pain this causes because the person is unconscious,” she says.

Death-penalty costs

As to cost, Cotton says the average execution – whatever method – costs $2.3 million dollars, compared to $500,000 to $700,000 for life in prison without parole.

In 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that death-row inmates in the United States could challenge the constitutionality of states' lethal injection procedures through a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Since then, numerous death-row inmates have brought such challenges in the lower courts, claiming that lethal injection as currently practiced violates the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" found in the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Lower courts evaluating these challenges have reached opposing conclusions.

For example, courts have found that lethal injection as practiced in California, Florida, and Tennessee is unconstitutional while other courts have found that lethal injection as practiced in Missouri, Arizona, and Oklahoma is constitutionally acceptable.

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