• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Tennessee Brings Back The Electric Chair

Electric Chair

In response to recent controversies regarding the drugs used for executions, and the prospect that the companies who make these drugs may refuse to sell them to states for use in executions, Tennessee is bringing back a form of capital punishment that was, for the most part, phased out decades ago:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As the rest of the nation debates the feasibility and humanity of lethal injections against a backdrop of scarce drugs and botched executions, Tennessee has come up with an alternative: the electric chair.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law Thursday allowing the state to electrocute death row inmates in the event prisons are unable to obtain the drugs, which have become more and more scarce following a European-led boycott of drug sales for executions.

Tennessee lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the electric chair legislation in April, with the Senate voting 23-3 and the House 68-13 in favor of the bill.

Tennessee is the first state to enact a law to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners an option, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that opposes executions and tracks the issue.

“There are states that allow inmates to choose, but it is a very different matter for a state to impose a method like electrocution,” he said. “No other state has gone so far.”

Dieter said he expects legal challenges to arise if the state decides to go through with an electrocution, both on the grounds of whether the state could prove that lethal injection drugs were not obtainable and on the grounds of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

While capital punishment remains legal in a majority of the states, and in the Federal system, there has been a notable shift in the methods of execution. In earlier eras, the gallows and the firing squad were the most common methods of execution, but they soon gave way to the gas chamber and electric chair. More recently, and especially within the past twenty years, most executions have been carried out via lethal injection even in states where the option for other methods remains on the books. In each case, the trend has quite obviously been toward a method of execution that is more “humane,” or which at least doesn’t cause undue pain and suffering for the condemned and does not require obvious overt action on the part of the people carrying out the execution. We’ve gone from the days where people had to tie a noose, fire a bullet, or flip the switch on a gas chamber or electric chair, to one where a few adjustments to a piece of medical equipment cause chemicals to first put a person to sleep, and then kill them quietly, assuming the drugs work they way they are supposed to. The clear message of this evolution of execution methods, of course, is that even death penalty advocates, perhaps only subconsciously, realize the inhumanity and brutality of what they’re doing. It’s a lot easier to live with yourself after witnessing a death by lethal injection I would imagine than it is after participating in a death by hanging, firing squad, or any other method.

Tennessee, however, has apparently decided to take a step backward and bring back a method of execution that had largely faded into history. I would imagine that, at leasst in their public statements, most death penalty advocates will cheer this on. By doing this, however, the Volunteer State has simply acknowledged that the death penalty is, in the end, inhumane and brutal and that our efforts in recent decades to make it a more pleasant experience have largely been a farce.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tillman says:

    First, I feel this is relevant.

    Second, how expensive is morphine? Couldn’t you just dope a guy to the point of unconsciousness and then guillotine him? And what’s the argument that the electric chair is more humane than the gas chamber?

    Third, I completely oppose the death penalty. Really, discussions on what is “more humane” in the killing of human beings are purely academic.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  2. PD Shaw says:

    “The clear message of this evolution of execution methods, of course, is that even death penalty advocates, perhaps only subconsciously, realize the inhumanity and brutality of what they’re doing.”

    No, I think the courts have ordered it, though perhaps not uniformly. When I worked at the death penalty appellate defender’s office in Louisiana they had a videotape of deaths by electrocutions that was used to stop its use there. One of my co-workers wanted to see it, but was told that it was under judicial seal. I don’t remember the details, but the lawyers clearly felt that injection was more humane. And they watched their clients die.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. PD Shaw says:

    @PD Shaw: Except that the SCOTUS ruled that death by electrocution did not violate the Eighth Amendment. Glass v. Louisiana. I wonder if I’m thinking of a lower court ruling, or perhaps the attention from the lawsuit created a legislative change.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. stonetools says:

    Why not go back to the firing squad, hanging , or the guillotine? Heck, let’s just go medieval and bring back the big guy with the black hood and the axe and the head on the chopping block. Make the executions public, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  5. Franklin says:

    @Tillman: I basically agree. If we’re gonna do it, the guillotine is as good as anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. Gavrilo says:

    Good job, anti death penalty zealots! For years, you lobbied against the electric chair, calling it cruel and unusual punishment. The states listened to you and switched to lethal injection. Now, you’re trying to make it impossible for the states to use lethal injection, so they’re going back to the electric chair. Maybe in 20 years, people will forget your absurdity and we’ll go back to lethal injection, again.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 25

  7. C. Clavin says:

    Every life is precious…until that life is actually…you know…born.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  8. Matt Bernius says:

    @Gavrilo:

    Maybe in 20 years, people will forget your absurdity and we’ll go back to lethal injection, again.

    Better yet, maybe in 20 years enough evidence of wrongful executions will pile up and we’ll finally, as a culture, simply do away with the entire archaic practice of the death penalty.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 39 Thumb down 0

  9. Mikey says:

    @Gavrilo: Maybe in 20 years we’ll have left behind the likes of Iran and joined the rest of the civilized world in banning capital punishment altogether.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  10. Mikey says:

    @Matt Bernius: GMTA. But you beat me by a minute. :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Matt Bernius says:

    Though the Electric Chair did inspire Nick Cave to write one hell of a song (later given an equally excellent cover by Johnny Cash).

    Cave’s version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahr4KFl79WI
    Johnny’s version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGGSTiDOjKU

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. al-Ameda says:

    @Tillman:

    Third, I completely oppose the death penalty. Really, discussions on what is “more humane” in the killing of human beings are purely academic.

    I could not say it more succinctly, thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. Matt Bernius says:

    @al-Ameda & @Tillman:
    Agreed. I mean how many wrongful convictions and executions need to occur until we as a culture are willing to settle for *only* having someone spend the rest of their lives in jail?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  14. al-Ameda says:

    @stonetools:

    Why not go back to the firing squad, hanging , or the guillotine? Heck, let’s just go medieval and bring back the big guy with the black hood and the axe and the head on the chopping block. Make the executions public, too.

    We could reprise the Roman Colosseum concept again? We could have capital offenders led into a colosseum (stadium) to the roar of over 100,000 death penalty advocates, and unleash lions, pit bulls, or dobermans on the prisoners. This should be big in Tennessee, after all Neyland Stadium holds over 102,000 people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  15. KM says:

    The clear message of this evolution of execution methods, of course, is that even death penalty advocates, perhaps only subconsciously, realize the inhumanity and brutality of what they’re doing. It’s a lot easier to live with yourself after witnessing a death by lethal injection I would imagine than it is after participating in a death by hanging, firing squad, or any other method.

    Lipstick on a pig. Dead is dead and there is no such thing as a humane execution. If what you are doing bothers you so much you need to “be able to live with yourself”, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it!! If you believe they deserve to die for their crime, then you need to be willing to see what that really means: someone’s death in all its inglorious indignities. No Disneyesque quiet closing of the eyes, drifting off to sleep crap. Recognize what it means: that you are now a killer too, not some high-n-mighty deliverer of justice from afar.

    Capital punishment is an ugly business, always has been. I see no reason to spare the delicate sensibilities of bloodthirsty people who faint at the sight of blood.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  16. CB says:

    @stonetools:

    Complete guess, but bodily integrity? The idea that it is preferable to keep the body whole, in a way that bullets or guillotines simply can’t?

    It’s obviously insane reasoning, but theres my guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    The supreme court has already determined that old sparky is cruel and unusual punishment. Starting people on fire to kill them couldn’t be anything else. I doubt it will ever be used.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Tillman says:

    Honestly, in my more fanciful moods, I think we can replace the death penalty/life imprisonment with some sort of island we just maroon particularly vicious criminals on. Sure, if you subscribe to the theory that imprisonment is meant as a form of rehabilitation for criminals away from civil society, this is anathema, but I figure any society that has life imprisonment has given up on rehabilitation and just wants punishment.

    Plus, in a couple of generations, we’ll have our own version of Australia, and they seem to have turned out relatively well.

    @stonetools: Firing squad wastes bullets and is just a tad cruel, since a guy riddled with bullets might survive for some time yet. A bullet in the back of the head, while Soviet in style, is probably less cruel and more efficient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  19. Matt Bernius says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    The [Nebraska] supreme court has already determined that old sparky is cruel and unusual punishment.

    Fixed that for you. To my knoweldge, the US Supreme Court has never specifically addressed whether or not it’s cruel and unusual.

    details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_chair
    specifics of the Nebraska ruling: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/09/us/09penalty.html?_r=0

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. ernieyeball says:

    The Traveling Executioner 1970
    Dir. Jack Smight (The Illustrated Man)
    In 38 seconds he’ll send you on your way to the Fields of Ambrosia, sizzling’ like a piece of bacon.
    Stacy Keach is electrifying as Jonas Candide, an ex-Carny who travels around the bayou with a portable electric chair. At $100 a head, he renders his services with loving care.
    http://every70smovie.blogspot.com/2011/10/traveling-executioner-1970.html
    Marianna Hill (High Plains Drifter) M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple).

    Maybe this will run again at the Twin-City Drive-In, Bristol Tennessee

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. anjin-san says:

    Hey, we want to be sure that when we execute poor/colored people, it is as horrific as possible…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. Dave D says:

    @Gavrilo: Blame the European drug companies that aren’t willing to supply the US with anesthetics anymore because the EU has a stance against capital punishment. I guess anti-death penalty advocates are in some roundabout way responsible when they say, I’d much rather be able to be put under before surgery, than allow the state to misuse these drugs for state sponsored murder.

    @Tillman: The Soviet execution style was in the back of the neck.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    Make the executions public, too.

    Indeed…how many people who support the death penalty would change their minds if they were forced to watch people actually being executed…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. stonetools says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Indeed…how many people who support the death penalty would change their minds if they were forced to watch people actually being executed…

    Well, dunno….

    Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like executions by guillotine in medieval times, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families. They were a kind of vigilantism where Southern white men saw themselves as protectors of their way of life and their white women. By the early twentieth century, the writer Mark Twain had a name for it: the United States of Lyncherdom.
    Headlines and Grisly Souvenirs
    Lynchings were covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display. Most infractions were for petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Many victims were black businessmen or black men who refused to back down from a fight. Headlines such as the following were not uncommon:
    “Five White Men Take Negro Into Woods; Kill Him: Had Been Charged with Associating with White Women” went over The Associated Press wires about a lynching in Shreveport, Louisiana.
    “Negro Is Slain By Texas Posse: Victim’s Heart Removed After His Capture By Armed Men” was published in The New York World Telegram on December 8, 1933.
    “Negro and White Scuffle; Negro Is Jailed, Lynched” was published in the Atlanta Constitution on July 6, 1933.
    Newspapers even printed that prominent white citizens in local towns attended lynchings, and often published victory pictures — smiling crowds, many with children in tow — standing next to the corpse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. Franklin says:

    @Gavrilo:

    Good job, anti death penalty zealots …

    What’s interesting about this angry rant is how misinformed it is.

    First off, very few of us are ‘zealots’. Many of us don’t have a problem with the idea of the death penalty. It’s the application to innocent people, usually poor and black, that we don’t really enjoy as much as the “pro death penalty zealots” (if we must resort to name-calling).

    Second, perhaps you missed the news about the completely botched lethal injection recently? And how the anti-death penalty people had warned about such a possibility beforehand?

    Third, why so angry? To be honest you sound a little bloodthirsty. I’m sure you’re not, though, and will come back with a thoughtful post.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  26. C. Clavin says:

    @Gavrilo:
    hehehe….
    Hey you anti-murder zealots…get off my lawn!!!
    Yeah…I’m kind of serious about not killing people…especially given the rates of wrongful conviction in this country. I mean…if you want to come up with an absolutely perfect system that guarantees an innocent person won’t ever be wrongly put to death…I’ll listen. But until then…sure…call me a zealot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  27. ernieyeball says:

    In June 2009, the Chinese government announced that it was a long-term objective to replace the firing squad with lethal injection. It is carried out in prisons or in mobile “death vans,” where prisoners are reportedly strapped to an electric-powered stretcher and injected with lethal drugs. The use of these vans has been decreasing since the late 2000s due to the expense of maintaining the vans.

    http://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/country-search-post.cfm?country=China
    Maybe The Traveling Executioner has already played at the Maple Drive-In Beijing.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDpmj2rG1pA

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. bill says:

    @Tillman: carbon monoxide is even cheaper, just fall asleep and never wake up.

    @Matt Bernius: there’s not been a proven case of an “innocently executed” person since it’s reinstatement. we sometimes forget just why some people get the death penalty- for killing one or more people. or committing treason & such.
    i like how tennessee just pissed off these activists to no end- “be careful what you wish for……” seems apropos.

    @C. Clavin: “………until he/she goes on a killing spree” is more like it.

    @An Interested Party: hasn’t the insane popularity of “cage fighting” dawned on you yet? i think it’s sick but some of my milder minded friends (woman too) think it’s great.
    and while you’re all weeping for the semi-botched execution of that swine clayton lockett, read about why he was sentenced to die, and cry me a freakin river. in the end, he’s dead and the world got just that much better.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Execution_of_Clayton_Lockett

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  29. Tillman says:

    @Dave D:

    The Soviet execution style was in the back of the neck.

    Is that so? Huh.

    Well, I guess we’d be closer to “breakaway Soviet republic” style then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. Kylopod says:

    @Tillman:

    Third, I completely oppose the death penalty. Really, discussions on what is “more humane” in the killing of human beings are purely academic.

    As a fellow death penalty opponent, I don’t think there is anything “academic” about which methods cause more suffering before death.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  31. Matt Bernius says:

    @bill:

    there’s not been a proven case of an “innocently executed” person since it’s reinstatement.

    What the hell are you talking about?

    There is a mounting body of hard evidence that people have, and continue to be, wrongfully executed. Hell, you commented on the last post Doug made on the subject:
    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/the-death-penalty-has-resulted-in-the-death-of-innocent-people/

    From said article:

    About one in 25 people imprisoned under a death sentence is likely innocent, according to a new statistical study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And that means it is all but certain that at least several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent, the study says.

    It doesn’t matter *how* those wrongfully convicted have been executed. The issue is that they *were* executed.

    The system continues to be proven to be flawed. And yet “thoughtful” types like you continue to be happy to let 10 innocent men be executed than suffer a single guilty party to live.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  32. Matt Bernius says:

    BTW @bill, serious question — based on your posts, it’s pretty clear that you’re a “small government” conservative (i.e. there’s just about nothing that the Government can’t screw up).

    Can you explain why you trust the government with things like executions?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  33. bill says:

    @Matt Bernius: yeah, but there’s never been a “proven” case where someone was wrongfully executed. that’s just fact. the msm seems to report on minor errors in some cases but refuse to see the big picture- an abundance of evidence! it’s not like every killer even get’s a trip to death row, those who do deserve worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 9

  34. Matt Bernius says:

    @bill:

    yeah, but there’s never been a “proven” case where someone was wrongfully executed.

    That’s an absolutely bullshit dodge. The reason no case has ever been “proven” is that States do not rarely, if ever, review cases after an execution. Period.

    In other words the system doesn’t allow for what you are asking for to be “proven.”

    Until a Justices are willing to unseal cases, all that can be presented are all the facts in the case and allow the public to decide.

    [Update: I have updated the post to reflect the fact that there have been, one a few occasions, post-execution reviews of cases. However, those reports are often problematic. For example, the DA who investigated whether or not Ruben Cantu was improperly convicted in Texas also just happened to have been the Judge who handled all of his appeals and set his execution date. I think most people who are concerned about "big government" and "corruption" would notice the rather glaring conflict of interest that this would generate.]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  35. DrDaveT says:

    @CB:

    Complete guess, but bodily integrity? [...] It’s obviously insane reasoning [...]

    This is actually a real point that people overlook. For Christians, bodily integrity after death is only an aesthetic concern, but there are religions out there that believe only the intact can go to heaven. We’re now multicultural enough that it makes sense not to gratuitously traumatize the relatives/community by executing criminals in a way that they believe damns his soul as well.

    …if you’re going to do it at all, that is. I’m with @Tillman up there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. DrDaveT says:

    @bill:

    yeah, but there’s never been a “proven” case where someone was wrongfully executed.

    Give up, Matt. He’s a Republican; he doesn’t believe in statistical inference. Remember the battle over sampling versus compete enumeration in the census?

    The fact that a significant fraction of people on death row were found to be innocent doesn’t PROVE that the ones we actually offed included innocent people; it’s only suggestive, right bill? The fact that I’ve flipped heads on this coin 227 times in a row doesn’t PROVE that it has heads on both sides; it’s only suggestive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  37. Satan says:

    I want them whole so I hear their screams as they suffer eternal death…

    and to fearful, and unstedfast, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all the liars, their part is in the lake that is burning with fire and brimstone, which is a second death.’ Revelation 21:8 Young’s Literal Translation

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  38. Matt Bernius says:

    @DrDaveT:
    I don’t care about changing his mind — I pretty much assume that that’s never going to happen for any of the agro-conservatives who contribute here.

    But I’d still love to get a satisfactory answer to why any “small government” conservative would ever trust the government (at any level) with the ability to execute it’s own citizens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. Tyrell says:

    @Matt Bernius: I have become generally against the death penalty mainly because of the chance that an innocent person might be executed. But then think about these scenarios: what if you were the judge at one of the trials of the following and you had to decide the sentence: Adolf Hitler, John W. Booth, Jack the Ripper, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Stalin, Mao. Bin Laden.What would be your sentence for each person? You see, all of these were guilty without a scant doubt (with the exception of Jack the Ripper, which someday may be solved). My sentences: Hitler: execution by gas chamber, Booth:
    execution by derringer, Himmler: execution by gas chamber, Ripper: execution by knife, Stalin: execution by freezing, Mao: execution by sword, Bin Laden: execution by explosives.
    Let me know your opinions and what you would decide. I know these are extreme and bizarre cases. None of these people were ever brought to trial. There is a lesson somewhere in that. The worst murderers in history never came to trial ? I would like to hear someone’s justification for giving any of these people a life sentence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. DrDaveT says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    But I’d still love to get a satisfactory answer to why any “small government” conservative would ever trust the government (at any level) with the ability to execute it’s own citizens.

    As best I can tell, law enforcement doesn’t count as ‘government’ for purposes of “us vs. them”. I suspect this extends even into law enforcement itself; many police do not think of themselves as part of the government, but rather as fighting both the government and the criminals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  41. DrDaveT says:

    @Tyrell:

    what if you were the judge at one of the trials of the following and you had to decide the sentence:

    Life in prison, performing valuable but demeaning hard labor. Death is too easy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  42. Mikey says:

    @Matt Bernius: You’re not expecting actual logical consistency, are you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  43. Tillman says:

    @Kylopod:

    As a fellow death penalty opponent, I don’t think there is anything “academic” about which methods cause more suffering before death.

    As a former philosophy major, I think you vastly underestimate what the Academy can discuss in minute detail. Besides, contrasting different forms of execution is really an extension of discussions in medical science concerning suffering, if it helps to think of it that way. Morally, you really can’t get around suffering.

    You could also apply this stuff to how best to slaughter cattle, from a moral perspective (living things should be executed with dignity if we insist on eating them, and that dignified end implies one without suffering) and a pragmatic perspective (the flavor of meat is highly influenced by how stressful the circumstances of the animal’s death are). Humans are animals, after all, so if, God forbid, we end up with a cannibal society in the future, we should have these discussions done with already so there’s less fuss interfering with the eating of our fellow man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  44. Tillman says:

    @bill:

    carbon monoxide is even cheaper, just fall asleep and never wake up.

    And it’s not like we don’t have a lot of the stuff. Then again, I don’t know how carbon monoxide physiologically kills you, I just know (like you state) the basic suicide’s reason for using it. It might be painful for all I know.

    But I contrast it with the electric chair, and I can’t believe it’s somehow worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  45. aFloridian says:

    I somewhat agree with Tyrell’s point.

    The very human nature of the lawyers, judges, paralegals, police, and everyone else who works to send people to the execution chamber means that the whole process is a lot less certain than most layman think. There are so many places where a case can go off the rails and people, eager to get closure or win a case, put those goals above the absolute truth. Two thoughts go along with that for me. #1: I think the vast majority of those executed are doubtlessly guilty, but unless I could honestly say “I think ALL of those executed are doubtlessly guilty…” then the thought out to be troubling.

    #2: It is very hard, I think, for a non-criminal to find himself on death row by mistake. I think those wrongly accused and executed, if there are indeed such cases, found their way to the gurney lubricated by their own criminal pasts. It’s very easy, when there’s a murder, for example, just to find some black thug with a long rap sheet and a modicum of circumstantial evidence and call it a day. I do think our criminal justice system is good enough that I don’t , have to worry about being wrongfully arrested for a murder unless one of my intimates winds up dead. That is, I don’t go out at night, hang out with criminals, do street drugs, or engage in other behaviors that might put me in close proximity to a murder investigation.

    That doesn’t make it ok if these people are getting put to death for a crime they didn’t commit. The racial aspect is particularly troubling. How anyone can ignore the racial disparity in executions is beyond me. Yes, I think it’s clear that black men have a greater propensity to street crime than white men (though I think it would be more fair to compare impoverished black men to impoverished white men where I would think the rates wouldn’t be so different). As someone whose childhood was impoverished, I understand what an incredible force it is. I sometimes think the wealthy think that, when we say poverty and crime are related, they think it’s some sort of Jean Valjean scenario and that the poor are stealing or robbing to provide for basic needs, and then don’t understand why they commit crimes outside of this rubric. In reality, of course, poverty provides such an incredible sense of degradation that stays with you 24 hours a day. You are going to be either angry or apathetic all the time. You want to assert your power somehow, you want to have some CONTROL of your life, and you want a better life. So crime.

    But that was a digression. The point was that execution statistics control for the variables and we still see that whites are being executed at a lesser rate, for the same crime. I’ve never understood this. Are the policymakers actually out-and-out racists who just want to see a back man die? Some maybe, but I seriously doubt most are like that. Instead it must be some sort of implied bias. This is very troubling, and in and of itself is probably enough to convince me we ought to move away from execution.

    My view of the criminal justice system is generally very utilitarian, but I do get rather retributivist when it comes to the worst of the worst. I feel that, sometimes, we encounter such pure, unmitigated evil that society cries out for a national catharsis in the form of an execution. I’m thinking of an American Andres Brevik. Or like the guy in China a year or so ago that stabbed all the babies in daycare (although I had read none of them died). Some crimes are just so horrible, and the evidence so convincing, that I shudder to think of living in a European-style country where we must allow the offender to go on living. Sometimes, for that catharsis to happen, the public needs to see a symbolic head on a spike. How to legislate that and draft laws to enforce it is currently beyond me, but that’s where I’d like to start.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  46. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: Thanks for your opinion on this; I did want to hear what others thought. Some of the top Nazis were executed, so I suppose that there is room to suppose that Hitler would have also been executed. Now that Rudolph Hess guy was kept locked up in Berlin well into the 1980′s until he finally died or was killed to keep him from talking. Some even say that he was an imposter.
    Now, about that Jack the Ripper person-certainly the most sensational and infamous serial killer in history. I read recently that some experts feel that the evidence shows that he was actually a member of the royal family !! No wonder that it seems his identity has been covered up all these years. One of these days a file or some diary will turn up and everyone will be shocked and surprised who Jack the Ripper really was. I also read that more books and movies have been made about him than any other criminal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  47. James Pearce says:

    @Tyrell:

    “But then think about these scenarios: what if you were the judge at one of the trials of the following and you had to decide the sentence: Adolf Hitler, John W. Booth, Jack the Ripper, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Stalin, Mao. Bin Laden.”

    Here’s one for you: Tim McVeigh.

    I used to be very anti-death penalty. How dare the state, I say, declare murder to be a criminal offense, then turn around and commit it!

    But then the Tim McVeigh trial was going on at the courthouse a few blocks from my office. It was a circus to be avoided, of course, but it was slathered over all the papers. (We had two in those days.)

    I started to wonder, well, what are we going to do with a guy like Tim McVeigh, lock him up? Here’s a guy who’s so unrepentantly evil that he’s never going to be allowed back into society under any condition, so there’s no real harm in keeping him at Supermax.

    But it didn’t seem fair. He kills all these people and then basically gets exiled like a Greek poet who scandalized the nobility.

    When they finally executed him, I was surprised to find that I was actually okay with it. I’ve had conflicted feelings about the death penalty ever since.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  48. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tyrell: In all of those cases, I would go with life without parole. Imagine, 20 or so years in the constant company of people just a sociopathic as each one of those is. Sounds pretty bleak. Personally, I’d rather be fried

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  49. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: I oppose giving them the privilege of doing something constructive, productive, or socially redeeming or valuable. They get to just sit in a cell and wait for the end to come except for the times during the day where Bubba says “I don’t think you’re all that tough. cum on….”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  50. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Tillman:

    As a former philosophy major, I think you vastly underestimate what the Academy can discuss in minute detail.

    We have a winner!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  51. Mr. Coffee says:

    @Tyrell: I would like to hear someone’s justification for giving any of these people a life sentence.

    Per WikiP 100 countries have abolished the death penalty.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_country
    If any of your fiends had been tried and convicted in these 100 jurisdictions today the death penalty would not be justified as it would violate the law of the land. But who gives a damn about such trifles. Let the blood flow.

    Aug. 6, 1890 – New York State Performs the First Execution by Electrocution with the Assistance of Thomas Edison’s Engineers
    “On August 6, 1890, New York State used an ‘electric chair’ to carry out the first execution by electrocution. The condemned was murderer William Kemmler. As it turned out, the process was hardly quick or painless. It took two surges of electricity, one of them lasting more than one minute, to kill Kemmler. The electricity burned Kemmler to death. Despite the gruesome procedure, people still thought electrocution was more humane and efficient than previous methods. With some refinements, it soon became the preferred method of execution in the United States.”

    http://deathpenalty.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000025

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  52. jomike says:

    @DrDaveT:

    For Christians, bodily integrity after death is only an aesthetic concern, but there are religions out there that believe only the intact can go to heaven.

    So we give them the choice: the guillotine or the airplane (a la the South American regimes back in the day)? Fully sedated, of course. We can’t have people screaming and soiling themselves at ten thousand feet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  53. bill says:

    @DrDaveT: thx, i need real facts to make up my mind- not whiny fantasy stuff from bleeding heart d-bags.
    @Tillman: there are survivors of said- they “fell asleep” and remember nothing. i’m all for it but the liberoids need some sort of touchy feely system that they can forever try to flip for some reason- and make sure it costs a lot of money that they’ll never have to pay.
    @Matt Bernius: as obama drones our own, granted they’ve gone all “sheethead” but still?! you’re obviously against the death penalty and you’ll never change your mind- see how it works now?
    it’s not like we’re lining up massive amounts of these dregs and offing them, it’s quite rare to actually pull the trigger- as most found of them found it so easy to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  54. Dave D says:

    @James Pearce: If you don’t give them the supermax time another inmate is likely to kill them in jail. A friend of mine growing up, his uncle was the man who got away from Dahmer post acid lobotomy and returned to Dahmer by Milwaukee’s finest, only to later be killed and partially eaten. The state didn’t need to kill him only leave him unsupervised long enough for someone else to do it. Wisconsin had one execution and it was in the first year of statehood, and so many people showed up that it made Gov. Dodge sick and it was then outlawed. Capital punishment is one of really gray areas where it is both abhorrent and at sometimes seemingly just. As pointed out above though the racial disparity particularly in the south, makes me think it needs to be done away with. Florida has never executed a white person for killing a black person. Full stop. There is nothing just about that kind of institutionalized racism. Also I think for every McVeigh put down, there are 10 mentally disabled men killed just in Texas which is another worrying aspect to capital punishment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  55. steve says:

    Tillman- Hypoxia. It has a stronger affinity for hemoglobin than does oxygen.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  56. Dave D says:

    @bill: The only legit reason that impeachment proceedings should have been brought against Obama was the extra judicial drone killing. However, the right seems to think that that is ok, because only Rand made a huff about it and the establishment shrugged. The left was very disappointing in their response proving that partisanship is the name of the game right now. That said sheethead was a really unnecessary thing to say.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  57. de stijl says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    But I’d still love to get a satisfactory answer to why any “small government” conservative would ever trust the government (at any level) with the ability to execute it’s own citizens.

    You’re never gonna get a satisfactory answer because it’s code for “the flavor of tribal fascism that I approve of at the highest level of sociopolitical power that can be achieved at present” doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. Anywhere and at anytime you are safely enough in the majority and have the opportunity to put the Other to the boot or to the death without fear of repercussion is the appropriate size of government. Doesn’t matter if the scale is the Union Of All The Americas or The Republic of Dave.

    “Can I deploy brownshirts and get away with it?” is the floor for government size for those folks. “Will there be political pushback that I might not withstand?” is the ceiling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  58. jomike says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    The reason no (wrongful execution) has ever been “proven” is that States do not rarely, if ever, review cases after an execution. Period.

    In other words the system doesn’t allow for what you are asking for to be “proven.”

    Exactly. As several commenters have pointed out, it’s a statistical certainty that we’ve executed innocent people. The questions are a) how many and b) who were they? Since neither question can be definitively answered for the reason you gave, people can always say “yabut you can’t PROVE anything!”

    That said, there have been cases in which subsequent review turned up substantial and convincing evidence of wrongful conviction. Cameron Todd Willingham, for example:

    Months after Willingham was executed, the Chicago Tribune published an investigative report that raised questions about the forensic analysis. The Innocence Project assembled five of the nation’s leading independent arson experts to review the evidence in the case, and this prestigious group issued a 48-page report finding that none of the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was valid.

    …An investigative report in the September 7, 2009, issue of the New Yorker deconstructs every facet of the state’s case against Willingham. The 16,000-word article by David Grann shows that all of the evidence used against Willingham was invalid, including the forensic analysis, the informant’s testimony, other witness testimony and additional circumstantial evidence.

    Anyone who says the Willingham case is unique in the long, bloody history of capital punishment in this country is either BSing or incredibly naive. Hell, it probably isn’t even particularly unusual.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  59. ringhals says:

    @Matt Bernius: @Matt Bernius:

    Though the Electric Chair did inspire Nick Cave to write one hell of a song (later given an equally excellent cover by Johnny Cash).

    And the debate over capital punishment brings to mind Donald Barthelme’s absurd, kafkaesque short story “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby”:

    http://web.mit.edu/jemorris/humor/gone.too.far

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  60. DrDaveT says:

    @Tillman:

    As a former philosophy major

    You too? Comrade!

    What flavor?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  61. DrDaveT says:

    @bill:

    thx, i need real facts to make up my mind

    It would be easier to assemble those facts if you’d take your fingers out of your ears and stop chanting “La la la I can’t hear you”. There have been any number of studies of false conviction rates, factors affecting false convictions, etc. Some of them are probably crap; the preponderance of the evidence is nevertheless clear. If you intend to dismiss them all, you’ve got a lot of research ahead of you. If you prefer to dismiss them preemptively, you’re assured a membership in the wingnut fraternal lodge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  62. george says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I’ve often wondered the same thing. Taking someone’s life is as big as gov’t gets. Everything else is small in comparison.

    Its one of the reasons why its impossible to take seriously most people who pretend to be for small gov’t – basically as soon as they state they’re for capital punishment you realize they’re either mind numbingly stupid (ie they believe the police and justice departments aren’t part of the gov’t), or lying about wanting small gov’t.

    I still can’t imagine how someone can say you can’t trust the gov’t with something like healthcare, and then turn around and say you can trust it to drive the machinery that results in capital punishment. It sounds like something The Onion would dream up …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  63. Ron Beasley says:

    Perhaps we should go back to burning at the stake. They had the option of making a smokey fire that would kill them or at least render them unconscious before the flames consumed their body.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  64. MarkedMan says:

    I’m not against the death penalty for what it does to the criminal. I’m against the death penalty for what it does to us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  65. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @bill:

    there’s not been a proven case of an “innocently executed” person since it’s reinstatement.

    bill, have you ever noticed that in our system of justice a defendant is not found “Innocent”? That they are in fact found “Not Guilty”? This may seem like nothing more than semantics to you, but there is a very important legal principle behind that distinction. Namely that it is very difficult to prove innocence and therefor it is incumbent upon the state to prove “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” before sentence. I want you to note the phrasing: “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt“. That very phrasing says that absolutely proving guilt can be an impossible obstacle. And yet you insist anti death penalty people prove actual innocence of a person executed.

    Well, I’m sorry. I do not accept the terms of your challenge seeing as everybody within the legal system accepts that that is an impossibly high standard to meet 99% of the time. Therefor I offer the case of Cameron Todd Willingham. Whatever else may be said, he most definitely was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Post conviction, ALL the forensic evidence used to convict him was shown to be nothing more than crystal ball reading.

    The number of exonerations of people on death row (and otherwise in prison) after actual proof of innocence even tho they had been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, should give pause to any advocate for the death penalty. That it does not, makes me wonder whether Justice is of interest at all to pro-DP people, or if they just want blood.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  66. Tyrell says:

    One issue that I have not seen discussed is the feelings and input of the victims’ families. How much input should judges consider from them? I would think that would be important and should carry a lot of weight.
    I remember the Charles Manson case; one the worst crimes in US history. Manson was given the death penalty, but later some misguided judges reduced it to life. I can’t remember exactly why. This was a horrible injustice, especially to the victims’ families, who then had to endure seeing that creep showing up on news programs being interviewed. That should not have been allowed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  67. Mu says:

    Bring back the oubliette. No more worrying about killing innocents, you can always fish them back out when they win an appeal. So I guess a modern supermax isn’t that different.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  68. jewelbomb says:

    @Tyrell:

    One issue that I have not seen discussed is the feelings and input of the victims’ families. How much input should judges consider from them?”

    Zero. In my mind, you want justice dispatched dispassionately and with as much equity as possible. Should a murderer whose victim has a large, loving family who are mad as hell be punished more harshly than one who kills a creep with no friends or family to support a harsher sentence? That seems a little arbitrary. A life is a life. If the crimes are comparable, why should justice be dispatched disproportionately based on the opinions of those who are least capable of viewing the situation objectively? I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the criminal justice system shouldn’t be about revenge but rather a means of making the world safer for law-abiding citizens in the most fair and equitable way possible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  69. Tillman says:

    @DrDaveT: Logic/epistemology. All very Analytic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  70. DrDaveT says:

    @Tillman:

    Logic/epistemology. All very Analytic.

    I should have guessed. Same here, with a side order of ethics. But that was back in the 80s; they don’t even teach some of my favorite courses any more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  71. @Tillman:

    Couldn’t you just dope a guy to the point of unconsciousness and then guillotine him?

    Modern execution methods are designed more around making the audience comfortable then making the person being executed comfortable. Morphine overdoses would be completely painless, but can cause post mortem spasms, which might disturb people who want to sate their bloodlust by watching another human die while simultaneously protecting their delusion that killing someone is a peaceful process.

    Thus we go with lethal injection process that puts more effort in making sure the prisoner is paralyzed (and thus incapable of showing any pain) than it is on actually preventing pain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  72. Mr. Coffee says:

    @jewelbomb: A life is a life.

    To some.
    However at times it can appear that Mr. T prefers a life that favors a specific religion and is of a particular gender over others. Especially if they practice “traditional American values.” Values defined by Tyrell I presume.

    Tyrell says:
    Sunday, May 18, 2014 at 08:11
    These seem like fine Christian men who exemplify and emphasize traditional American values.

    Allen West And Ben Carson Both Seem To Think God Wants Them To Run For President
    DOUG MATACONIS   ·   SATURDAY, MAY 17, 2014  

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  73. Tyrell says:

    @jewelbomb: And I agree with your main points. There are a lot of wide ranging differences in sentencing for similar crimes. In some cases there are mitigating circumstances. In some cases there are judges who show more concern for the criminals than the victims, in some cases letting a criminal walk free because of some trivial technicality. That is the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  74. Mr. Coffee says:

    @Tyrell: In some cases there are judges who show more concern for the criminals than the victims, in some cases letting a criminal walk free because of some trivial technicality.

    Another point of view:

    The term legal technicality is a casual or colloquial phrase referring to a technical aspect of law. The phrase is not a term of art in the law; it has no exact meaning, nor does it have a legal definition. It implies that strict adherence to the letter of the law has prevented the spirit of the law from being enforced. However, as a vague term, the definition of a technicality varies from person to person, and it is often simply used to denote any portion of the law that interferes with the outcome desired by the user of the term.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_technicality

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  75. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell:

    In some cases there are judges who show more concern for the criminals than the victims, in some cases letting a criminal walk free because of some trivial technicality.

    I suspect the technicality will not seem so trivial to you when it is your rights that are being violated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  76. bill says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: did you read the cameron willingham police report too? they had reason to suspect he was dirty, and he was.
    not much on the blood lust but some people just don’t need to breath our air anymore.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  77. KM says:

    @bill”

    did you read the cameron willingham police report too? they had reason to suspect he was dirty, and he was.

    Oh I see. Since you are suspected to be guilty of a crime (and may very well be) it’s completely OK to frame you for a crime you didn’t commit and kill you for it. So beware all you tax-dodgers, you petty criminals, you druggies. If you’re “dirty”, it’s OK to send you up to Death Row on false premises. The State can kill you by lying in a legal trial because you guilty of something.

    I don’t think I’ve heard a more horrifying anti-American, pro-totalitarian, anti-justice thing in my life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  78. An Interested Party says:

    as obama drones our own, granted they’ve gone all “sheethead” but still?!

    Yet again, that’s mighty white of you…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  79. grumpy realist says:

    @An Interested Party: considering that going to watch the inmates at Bedlam was considered fun entertainment earlier in England (ditto for watching the executions) I have no doubt but that publicly available executions would soon turn into “fun entertainment for the entire family! Teach the kiddies about Justice!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  80. grumpy realist says:

    @Matt Bernius: Hell, how do you trust the government with deciding someone is guilty?

    I’m against the death penalty simply because of the error rate. I’d rather put convicted people in a totally self-sustaining unit that gets its energy from the sun and have you live as long as you are willing to carry out the activities needed to keep yourself going.

    Heck, just fencing off a large chunk of one of the less-populated states and turning them loose with a shovel, a knife, a tent, and a bag of mixed seed should be sufficient. They will live or die in accordance with their own efforts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  81. Tillman says:

    @grumpy realist: I’d still prefer an island. You’d have to waste money maintaining a fence with guards in your scenario, but an island? An island has the sea, Nature’s Fence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0