Dead Man Eating

by Sean Carter

This week, the Supreme Court will begin hearing a number of important cases. However, perhaps no case will have a more long-lasting impact than the case it will hear later this term, Nelson v. Campbell.

In 1982, David Larry Nelson was convicted in Alabama for the murders of two men and sentenced to death by lethal injection. However, in our legal system, there is a big difference being condemned to death and actually being executed. It's like the difference between being married and actually having sex. Theoretically, one would seem to follow from the other but in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, it's been more than 20 years since Nelson's conviction and he's still filing appeals. In his latest appeal, Nelson is challenging the method of execution as being "cruel and unusual punishment."

In Alabama, inmates are executed by lethal injection. A physician injects a mixture of lethal chemicals into the arm of the inmate. However, Nelson has a history of past intravenous drug use that could make it difficult for the physician to easily locate a vein in his arm. If this is the case, the physician may have to resort to cutting through the muscle and fat in his arm to reach a vein.

Nelson objects to this "cut down" procedure. He says that he's more than willing to die but, get this, he's not willing to endure such a "risky procedure." After all, Alabama has never used this procedure before and therefore, it's "unsafe."

Obviously, Nelson and his attorney seem to have lost sight of one minor detail - within a minute of the procedure, he will be dead. At that point, an infection would seem to be the least of his troubles.

In fairness, Nelson didn't take that many drugs in the past. He knows that if he can get the Supreme Court to rule that the "cut down" procedure is unconstitutional, then he will have achieved the ultimate victory in his 20-year battle to avoid execution.

Moreover, he will have paved the way for other inmates to challenge their executions. Some will claim that they are "allergic" to the poisons. Others will claim that they are afraid of needles. And others will simply claim that they have a cold and that the execution should be scheduled for a time when they are feeling more up to it.

If this occurs, then Alabama and the other 33 states which use lethal injection will have to find another method of execution. Fortunately, they should be able to resort to Plan B - the last meal.

Traditionally, inmates have been given a last meal of their choice. Given the circumstances, inmates seldom make nutritional choices.

For instance, last month, an Oklahoma inmate ordered the following last meal: six extra crispy chicken breasts, six rolls, one bag of jelly beans, a bag of red licorice, six lemon-glazed doughnuts and six cream sodas. If he ate even half of this last meal, then his actual execution was unnecessary. A meal like that would be enough to kill a full grown moose or maybe even Rosie O'Donnell.

Therefore, if the Supreme Court invalidates lethal injection, prison officials can simply allow inmates choose their own diets. Within a month, death row will be emptier than Ann Coulter's head. Now, if you will excuse me, my wife has just cooked a special dinner for me: five pork chops, seven Italian sausages, a vat of vanilla ice cream . uh oh!

Sean Carter is a lawyer, public speaker, and the author of "If It Does Not Fit, Must You Acquit? - Your Humorous Guide to the Law". He can be reached at