By Kaitlyn Richards
Ronald Post, an Ohio inmate sentenced to the death penalty, claims that he is “too obese” to be executed. Post shot and killed a hotel clerk, Helen Vantz, in Ohio almost thirty years ago, and is scheduled to be executed on January 16, 2013. The condemned inmate argues that his weight, vein access, and other medical problems would give executioners problems during the procedure. Post, weighing 480 pounds, argues that his history of difficulty losing weight would put him through a “torturous and lingering death”; his lawyers claim additionally that his current physical and medical conditions would put him at immense risk for serious physical and psychological pain.
Ronald Post’s case is similar to several other death penalty issues regarding the weight of condemned inmates. In 2008, a convicted double murderer, Richard Cooey, was sentenced to the death penalty, but his lawyers argued that he was too obese to be executed by lethal injection. They claimed that due to Cooey’s previously limited access to food and limited opportunities to exercise, it would be difficult for executioners to find a vein for lethal injection. Despite his lawyers’ objections, the 5′ 7″ and 267 lbs Cooey was put to death on October 14, 2008. In a 1994 case from Washington, Mitchell Rupe, previously sentenced to death by hanging, appealed his sentence, arguing that his weight would put him at risk for decapitation, which would constitute as cruel and unusual punishment. Rupe was ultimately sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2006.
Helen Vantz was working in the motel Ronald Post was robbing and was killed after he shot her in the back of the head twice. Vantz’s son, still seeking justice for his mother’s murder 30 years later said in response to Post’s request: “I don’t care if they have to wheel him in on a tractor-trailer; 30 years is too long…This is just an excuse to get out of the execution.”
According the Post’s lawyers, medical personnel at Ohio State University had difficulty inserting IVs into Post’s arms, needing three attempts to correctly place the IV. Post has struggled with his weight for years, but knee and back problems make it difficult for him to exercise in prison.
Post’s unusual case raises questions about the circumstances under which the death penalty should or should not be used. Currently, the death penalty is in use in 37 states, while the 13 states and jurisdictions without it claim the death penalty violates their state constitutions, or is just too costly. This particular case shows the number of ethical problems that capital punishment has encountered for years, like who should be put to death, what circumstances would allow a person to not be put on death row, and what are the costs and time it takes for an inmate to be executed?