A Terrible Necessity

On November 5, 1975, Angel Nieves Diaz, a.k.a. Emilio Baez Papo, was sentenced to five to eight years in a Puerto Rico prison for armed robbery.

While in prison, he allegedly stabbed to death the director of the drug rehab program in which he was participating.

On September 6, 1978, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 10 to 15 years imprisonment.

On September 19, 1979, Mr. Diaz escaped from prison and fled to Florida.

On December 29, 1979, Mr. Diaz and two accomplices allegedly entered the Velvet Swing topless club in Miami.

According to court documents, Mr. Diaz, armed with a large-caliber gun equipped with a silencer, fired shots in the air that almost struck a dancer and abducted a waitress to the back office in order to force her to open the safe. In the melee, Joseph Nagy, the bar manager, was shot to death.

Mr. Diaz was convicted of his murder and sentenced to death on January 24, 1986.

That sentence of death was finally executed on Wednesday, December 13, 2006.

But even the execution took too long. The first attempt at lethal injection was botched; the needle went all the way through one of Mr. Diaz’s veins and failed to deliver its poison to his bloodstream. A second injection was performed properly. Mr. Diaz’s death took 34 minutes.

In response, Florida has suspended executions by lethal injection. California has ordered the method revamped.

In the last three days, the circumstances of Mr. Diaz’s death have become a cause celebre for those who want to stop the death penalty altogether.

The objections to lethal injection are based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, which was crafted during a time when public hanging was a common method of execution.

“This demonstrates that there is no happy and kind and nice way to execute someone,” David Elliot, a spokesman for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told The Washington Post. “Execution is a messy business.”

Of course, it is. The execution of a sentence of death is not “happy and kind and nice”. It is terrible and disturbing and harsh. It should be carried out with a deep and somber and profound regard for the value of the life that is being ended.

But it is necessary in certain circumstances. And the fact that the execution of a multiple murderer, armed robber, and escaped convict took 34 minutes doesn’t change that.

Angel Diaz was created in the image of God. But he made the choice not to strive to live up to that image. Mr. Diaz’s own actions made him the kind of person whom a civilized society cannot tolerate in its midst. The world is a better and safer place without Angel Diaz.

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