What's 20 minutes to you? Two miles on the expressway during rush hour? Time to slurp a latte on the way back to the office? About the time it takes to scan the newspaper you're reading now? To Michael Richard, 20 minutes was probably the difference between life and death.
The Texas death-row inmate's lawyers petitioned for a stay of execution after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to review the constitutionality of lethal injection. Irving killer Carlton Akee Turner won a last-minute stay from the high court. Mr. Richard's lawyers were working on his petition when their computer crashed. They phoned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, informed its personnel of the computer problems and asked them to stay open long enough to accept the paperwork.
Forget it, replied the court. Time thus ran out for Mr. Richard, who died on the gurney. A court official later said, "I advised the parties that called that we closed at 5." Just like that.
That is unconscionable.
You might not lose sleep over the fact that the court wouldn't stay open for 20 minutes to help a convicted rapist-murderer's attempt to evade the needle a bit longer. You should think again.
When the state takes the life of a condemned criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn't be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.