Even in Texas, which leads the nation in executions since 1976 (when the U. Supreme Court approved the practice after a brief moratorium), the wheels are coming off the bandwagon.
From a peak of 40 executions in 2000, the Lone Star State put 10 prisoners to death last year and seven so far in 2015.
Maybe it’s the teenage terrorist who plants a bomb near an 8-year-old boy.
Maybe it’s a failed neuroscientist who turns a Colorado movie theater into an abattoir. Half a century of inconclusive legal wrangling over the process for choosing the worst of the worst says otherwise.
Lethal injection was intended to be a superior alternative to electrocution, gassing or hanging, all of which are known to go wrong in gruesome ways.
But when pharmaceutical companies began refusing to provide their drugs for deadly use and stories of botched injections became commonplace, the same legal qualms that had turned courts against the earlier methods were raised about lethal injections.
Even so, Tsarnaev is in no danger of imminent death.
He is one of more than 60 federal prisoners under sentence of execution in a country where only three federal death sentences have been carried out in the past half-century. The situation is similar in state courts and prisons.
That officially idles the fifth largest death row in America.
The largest, in California, is also at a standstill while a federal appeals court weighs the question of whether long delays and infrequent executions render the penalty unconstitutional.