It’s one of those weird stories that makes you stop for a minute and say, “What??” In Ohio, a death row inmate, Ronald Ray Post, is asking that his execution be postponed because he is morbidly obese.
Post weighs 480 pounds, and his lawyers say that the lethal execution methods that Ohio uses to impose the death penalty won’t quickly and painlessly kill him and therefore would violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Post’s lawyers contend that the gurney won’t hold his vast bulk and that the execution team will have a difficult time finding a vein in which to make the injection under the layers of fat. The lawyers insist that Post’s weight gain wasn’t deliberate. In fact, they note that Post requested bariatric surgery from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to control his weight, but administrators refused the request because the surgery wasn’t medically necessary. (Post has not only sued the state over denial of bariatric surgery, but also because he has to use a steel toilet seat in his cell and hasn’t been granted visitation rights with a girlfriend.)
The story of Ronald Ray Post is the kind of odd story that quickly becomes the stuff of jokes. For example, how does a guy in prison get to weigh 480 pounds? What is the Department of Corrections feeding this guy? Hey, I know death row prisoners get a last meal — how many last meals has this dude pounded down? Ho ho! And get this: Post supposedly was trying to lose weight and was using the prison exercise bike until is broke under the strain. Pretty funny, huh?
But beneath the crude jokes lurks a serious point, I think. Post was convicted and sentenced to death for the heinous, deliberate killing of an innocent hotel clerk in 1983. There’s nothing funny, obviously, about his terrible crime — and there’s really nothing funny about his situation or his claim, either. Virtually every death sentence in Ohio is the subject of multiple, costly appeals and facially absurd claims, where we argue about whether the state is engaging in a sufficiently painless way of killing a murderer. In the modern world of constant recession and tight government budgets, why should we pay for such appeals — to say nothing of litigation about Post’s alleged right to get bariatric surgery and a special toilet because he’s got an uncontrollable appetite?
I oppose the death penalty because I think it is wrong for the state to put people to death, and also absurd for a state that is killing an inmate to express concern about whether the inmate is unduly suffering while the death penalty is being exacted. But I also think we can’t just afford the cost and constant litigation about death sentences. Put confessed murderers like Mr. Post in prison forever and let him eat himself to death — but don’t make beleaguered taxpayers pay for decades to fight every step in the bizarro death penalty dance.