Stephen Kent

The Simon of Cyrene Award goes to … (the envelope please) the state of Ohio.

A second-time winner, Ohio is recognized for denying a convict’s request to donate organs to his family because the operation would make him not healthy enough for his scheduled execution.

The same state was a previous recipient for returning a condemned man from the death chamber to his cell because they injured him too much in the execution process.

The award is named, of course, for the man Roman soldiers pressed into service to help Jesus carry his cross so he wouldn’t die before he could be properly executed.

Ronald Phillips, convicted of the rape and murder of a 3-year-old, had his execution postponed by the governor from last November to early July of this year to see if he could donate organs, including a kidney, to his mother.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (which seems to do neither) gave Phillips a late March deadline to have the transplant so he would be up and about in time for his lethal injection July 2.

If Phillips is fortunate, he may contract pneumonia later this spring so he will not be sufficiently hale and hearty to be fatally poisoned. Then again, he could have the good luck of Romell Broom. He was not executed because, despite repeated attempts for two hours, executioners were not able to find a vein to insert the intravenous needle to kill him, thereby earning the Buckeye State an earlier Simon of Cyrene Award.

Sounds absurd? Of course it is.

Elsewhere on the crime and punishment scene, we have prison guards picking up a package of drugs in a clandestine operation in Arizona, bringing it north on Interstate 5 to the San Joaquin Valley in California where it was passed on to another group that took it to its final destination.

Just another drug deal? Not really. It involved California prison guards trading some of the state’s muscle relaxants with Arizona in exchange for vials of sodium thiopental meant to flow into the veins of any of those on death row in California.

Manufacturers are withholding lethal injection drugs because of their opposition to the death penalty. Specialized compounding pharmacies are becoming more reluctant to custom mix lethal drugs, not wishing to be linked to capital punishment.

Some states are contemplating returning to the good old days of the electric chair or a firing squad.

That’s not for Arkansas, where the attorney general says, “The euthanasia element of lethal injection has allowed the public to temper their desire for the ultimate justice with their delicate sensibilities.”

Right. Vengeance should be as comfortable as possible for the folks with delicate sensibilities. Before leaving the theater of the absurd, consider a recent execution in Florida.

While Robert L. Henry was being executed for the 1987 killing of two co-workers, a witness to the lethal injection blurted out “Die!” as the inmate read his last statement, which took three minutes. Maybe a 140-character Twitter limit could be imposed to expedite things in the future.

Henry apologized for his crimes and said he hoped his death would comfort the families of the victims, but he also criticized the death penalty.

“Why would we continue to be murderers to those who have murdered?” he asked.

Good question. Maybe the United States will eventually answer it and separate itself from China, Iran and other countries it proudly stands with in its “desire for the ultimate justice.”


Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: