Help Wanted: Executioner

What experience do you need to carry out the death penalty? That's what I've been wondering since Friday, when I read the latest story about the state court case over whether lethal injection is humane. A spokesperson for state Attorney General Rob McKenna told The Seattle Times that lethal injection team members must meet "minimum qualifications" but he didn't say what those are. Turns out there is only one qualification stipulated in Department of Corrections policy, and it is indeed pretty minimum: one year's experience as a certified medical assistant or "similar occupation." But that's more than there used to be.

Up until October, the DOC mandated no particular qualifications. According to spokesperson Maria Peterson, the policy was revised to accord with Kentucky procedures, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled humane last April. For the same reason, Washington state changed its cocktail of drugs used in the injection. It added, for instance, an extra gram of thiopental sodium, the drug that renders the prisoner unconscious.

Peterson says the DOC believes its procedures will be judged humane in the current case in Thurston County Superior Court because of the similarity of its procedures to Kentucky's. In the mean time, it has lost the lethal injection team that had been assembled for the March 13 execution of Cal Brown. All four team members resigned last week for fear that their identities would be revealed in the ongoing court case. But because of that case, the Brown's execution was stayed. So the state has a little while before needing to search out new executioners, which is a paying job, as Damon Agnos discovered.

Here is the entire DOC policy on carrying out executions, which include such details as what the prisoner can have in his holding cell right before the fatal deed (not much).

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