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The “death penalty” is currently utilized in thirteen states throughout the United States. There are currently 3,242 people sitting on “death row” and 43 of those are currently incarcerated here in Nevada. The death penalty is nothing new. Everyone has either read about or watched movies of people having their heads chopped off during medieval times, hangings during western times and one of the most severe executions throughout the ages is that of the crucifixions during the time of Christ. Then there were the executions that few have been aware of and are most likely one of the cruelest of all were the ones of a person convicted of patricide.
They would be “tied to a sack with a cockerel, a poisonous snake and a dog, and then thrown into the river, or sea.” (Jerome, 2012).
Capital punishment has been in force for centuries and there are many forms, some are still administered today. Socrates was condemned to death and chose to execute himself by partaking of a deadly mouthful of poison.
Slaves who were condemned to death would be beaten to death. Some methods over the centuries of execution of criminals were meant to apply tremendous pain and suffering. Back in medieval times the thief would be chained to heavy cartwheels and rolled around the streets where they were battered with stones and eventually crushed to death. Many others suffered a slow and agonizing death through strangulation. Then there were the executions that few have been aware of and are most likely one of the cruelest of all were the ones of a person convicted of patricide. They would be “tied to a sack with a cockerel, a poisonous snake and a dog, and then thrown into the river, or sea.” (Jerome, 2012).
In ancient time’s execution for the accused seemed to us today cruel and unjust. Some of the most ruthless methods were inflicted on the criminal. Including crucifixion, in Christ’s time; burnings, Joan of Arc; hangings which is still used today in Delaware and Washington.
There is such a disparity on this subject. There many who do not believe in capital punishment, as they say it is nothing more than the justice system “murdering another human legally.” “Seventeen people have been proven innocent and exonerated by DNA testing in the United States after serving time on death row. They were convicted in 11 states and served a combined 209 years in prison – including 187 years on death row – for crimes they didn’t commit.” (Innocence Project, 2010).
When a person is sentenced to death, he or she could be executed in one of five ways. They include 1.) hanging; 2) firing squad; 3) gas chamber; 4) electrocution – the electric chair and 5) lethal injection. Much of this discussion of will be targeted toward Nevada’s capital punishment tactics as this is my home state and I have much more experience and knowledge of the judicial and prison systems in this state. After reading how these executions are performed and carried out, you be the judge – “Is execution justified? Or is it a form of legalized murder?” Types of Execution and Its Process:
Execution by Hanging:
One of the oldest methods of execution is hanging, and is still used today in Washington and Delaware here in the United States. There are four main forms of hanging: 1. Short drop hanging where the prisoner drops just a few inches, and their suspended body weight and physical struggling causes the noose to tighten, normally resulting in death by strangulation or carotid or Vagal reflex. 2. Suspension hanging where the executee is lifted into the air using a crane or other mechanism. Death is caused in the same way as with short drop hanging. 3. Standard drop hanging where the prisoner drops a predetermined amount, typically 4-6 feet, which may or may not break their neck. This was the normal method adopted in America in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. 4. Finally, measured or long drop hanging which became universal in Britain from 1874, where the distance the person falls when the trapdoors open is calculated according to their weight, height and physique and is designed to break the neck. This method was adopted in British Colonies and by some other countries who wished to make executions more humane
Death can come as short as a few seconds, or as long as a minute. Flashes of light and “blackness” together with feelings of weakness and powerlessness have been reported by those who have survived (suicidal) hanging. It is thought that brain death will occur in around six minutes and the heart will stop beating within 10-15 minutes. Where the jugular veins are occluded before the carotid arteries, the face will typically become engorged and livid as the brain is filled with blood which cannot get back out. There will be the classic signs of petechial – little blood marks on the face and in the eyes from burst blood capillaries due to the excessive pressure. The tongue may protrude. Where death has occurred through carotid/Vagal reflex, the face will typically be pale and bluish in colour and not show petechial. In all cases there will normally be an inverted “V” mark where the knot of the noose was situated and the head will be forced over away from the knot.(Retrieved from: http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/ hanging2.html)
The first person to be hung was convicted murderer John Billington, in September of 1630, in New England. The first woman to be hung by the federal government was Mary Surratt, for her part in the assassination of President Lincoln. The last person in the United States to be hung was Billy Bailey on January 25, 1996. Most men and women who were hung during the Salem witch trials had been convicted of witchcraft and were sentenced to public hangings. Even though most convicted witches were burned at the stake. After the signing of the Eight Amendment to the Bill of Rights which states “that cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflected.” Even though hanging was not considered to be a form of cruel punishment it was detrimental in the temporary suspension of capital punishment by the Supreme Court. In 1797 Benjamin Rush published a pamphlet against the death penalty, where he stated “The punishment of murder by death is contrary to reason, and to the order and happiness of society, and contrary to divine revelation.” Men and women like Rush laid the foundation for the movements against the death penalty, which is carried out today. Today, the eighth amendment is still crucial in the argument against capital punishment.
At one time in our history men and women were hung for crimes such as horse theft and adultery. Then in 1794 criminals were only hung for first degree murder. Hanging is still legal in both Washington and Delaware. Execution by Firing Squad
Utah is one of two states that offer execution by firing squad as an option to condemned inmates (Idaho is the other). Only two inmates out of six condemned to death have chosen the firing squad as their method of execution, the only two inmates in America to be executed by firing squad since reinstatement. Gary Gilmore (the first inmate executed in America since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976) was executed on January 17, 1977 and John Taylor was executed on January 27, 1996.
There is no official procedure for execution by firing squad. However, it is believed that five correctional officers will participate, each aiming at the inmate’s trunk. Some will have blanks and some will have live ammunition so that no one knows which gun committed the actual killing.
Death for the prisoner can be relatively quick and painless, if the bullet hits him or her in the right spot – if not, the procedure could be redone. This has never happened in the history of the firing squad. The Gas Chamber
Prior to January 1, 1912 the law prescribed hanging as the means of carrying out the death sentence in the State of Nevada, however, upon revision of the statutes in 1911 the condemned were allowed a choice between the gallows and the firing squad. This remained the law until March 28, 1921 when an amendment was adopted providing for execution by means of lethal gas. Nevada was the first state to sanction the use of the gas chamber. Convicted murderer Gee Jon was the first to be executed by the gas chamber on February 8 1924 and Jesse Walter Bishop, also a convicted murderer was the last to be executed in the gas chamber on October 22, 1979. From Jon to Bishop there were 30 other executions performed in this manner. (State Library and Archives, 2011)
Cyanide was introduced to Nevada as a more humane way of executing inmates. Nevada’s first attempt of pumping gas into Gee Jon’s cell while he slept, was a failure. As it proved impossible as the gas leaked out of his cell. So the Nevada gas chamber was constructed. The procedure is that the inmate is strapped to a chair in an airtight chamber. Below the chair rests a pail of sulfuric acid. A long stethoscope is typically affixed to the inmate so that a doctor outside the chamber can pronounce death. Once everyone has left the chamber, the room is sealed. The warden then gives a signal to the executioner who flicks a lever that releases crystals of sodium cyanide into the pail. This causes a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen cyanide gas. (Weisberg, 1991).
The prisoner is instructed to breathe deeply to speed up the process. Most prisoners, however, try to hold their breath, and some struggle. The inmate does not lose consciousness immediately. According to former San Quentin, CA Warden, Clifton Duffy, “At first there is evidence of extreme horror, pain, and strangling. The eyes pop. The skin turns purple and the victim begins to drool” (Weisberg, 1991).
According to Dr. Richard Traystman of John Hopkins University School of Medicine, “The person is unquestionably experiencing pain and extreme anxiety…The sensation is similar to the pain felt by a person during a heart attack, where essentially the heart is being deprived of oxygen.” “The inmate dies from hypoxia, the cutting-off of oxygen to the brain” (Weisberg, 1991).
“At postmortem, an exhaust fan sucks the poison air out of the chamber, and the corpse is sprayed with ammonia to neutralize any remaining traces of cyanide. About half an hour later, orderlies enter the chamber, wearing masks and gloves. Their training manual advises them to ruffle the hair to release any remaining traces of cyanide before removing the deceased.” (Weisberg, 1991).
Execution by Electrocution – the Electric Chair
To be put to death by electrocution is simply another word for “electric chair.” In Nevada, only one such execution has been performed, and that was that of Jesse Bishop, on October 23, 1979. “Bishop smiled at his own execution.” It only took nine minutes for his demise. (Thompson, 1979) The procedure for such an execution is as follows: a sponge of saline is applied to the prisoners head. If the sponge is too wet the saline will short-circuit the electric current. If the sponge is too dry, it would have an extraordinarily high resistance. An Electro-crème is applied to an auxiliary electrode and attached to the detainee’s leg which has been shaven so as to reduce the resistance to electricity. Blindfolded the prisoner awaits the motion of the warden to the executioner to pull the switch. Once the switch is pulled, the power is connected to the power switch, which carries between 500 and 2000 volts of electricity, which surges through the connectors for about 30 seconds.
Once the current has been turned off, the body is relaxed. The medical team waits a few seconds until the body cools before checking the prisoner’s heart for any signs of life. Should there still be signs of life, then the process is repeated and continues to be repeated until the prisoner is dead. Many times there is much violent movement of the prisoner’s hands, legs and even head which many times results in relocation and fractures of bones. Tissues swell, defecation results and smoke or steam rise and a smell of burning flesh are visible. The U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once offered the following description of an execution by electric chair: …the prisoner’s eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool.
The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner’s flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire….Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber. (Ecenbarger, 1994) The body is so hot that it can blister at the touch during post-mortem. Therefore, the autopsy must be delayed during the cooling of the internal organs. “There are third degree burns with blackening where the electrodes met the skin of the scalp and legs. According to Robert H. Kirschner, the deputy chief medical examiner of Cook County, “The brain appears cooked in most cases.” (Weisberg, 1991) (Descriptions of Execution Methods) This is considered a most painful and inhumane way of execution. Execution by Lethal Injection
Lethal Injection, which seems to the more acceptable form of execution throughout the United States in today’s society. In this process the convicted is placed on a gurney while a correction officer elected to the “execution team” places heart monitors in place on the prisoners skin. Then inserts two needles attached to long tubes (one which is a back up), which comes from holes in the prison walls, into the inmates vein. There are two saline solutions, one has no effect and is immediately started. The other has the lethal toxic material that puts the prisoner to death. When the Warden gives the signal, a screen is extended revealing the prisoner to the onlookers in a connecting room. Once revealed, the prisoner is injected with same solution in which is used before surgery called sodium thiopental, an anesthetic which puts the inmate to sleep. Once the inmate is asleep pancuronium bromide is injected. This solution is a muscle paralyzer and stops the breathing process. The last step to the rendering process is the injection of potassium chloride which causes death by cardiac arrest due to the overdose. Finally, the medical examiner examines the deceased prisoner and pronounces him or her dead and documentation is made, and the curtain is drawn. (Miethe & Snell, 2008)
Today, 37 of the 38 states in which use the death penalty use this method of execution. The problem with the injection method is if the procedure is not performed by knowledgeable and qualified staff or medical staff, the procedure can be extremely painful. If the solutions are not properly administered into the veins due to the excessive use of drugs by the prisoner, the needle will be blocked and can cause excruciating pain. Hence, leaving the prisoner on the gurney for long periods of time while searching for a usable vein. For example, in the case of Roderick Abeyta. “Roderick Abeyta’s was executed on October 5, 1998 in Nevada by Lethal Injection. It took 25 minutes for the execution team to find a vein suitable for the lethal injection.” (Blanco, 1998).
This is not just a hoax or a movie, this is real. Go inside of the actual prison in Carson City, Nevada (there is another one in Ely, Nevada), see the cell of a death row inmate, and see where his last breath will be taken. You decide, does anyone deserve that type of death? (Visit the Carson City, Nevada’s Execution Chamber on U-Tube: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=dfiaDkK_sY8) Now that a person has some true insight to what the death penalty is about and entails, an intelligent discussion or debate can be had in this writer’s opinion. Even though, the only persons in Nevada that can be executed are first-degree murderers. These murders must who have at least 16 aggravating situations (NRS 200.020, 200.033, and 200.035). Nevada currently sways toward using lethal injection. Nevada is ranked the 17th most populous state, however, ranked as 13th in the number of inmates on death row since 2007. Nevada is the 4th highest ranked in the nation for murder cases in 2005. One must ask, does even the court system have the right to disregard any human-being to death, regardless of their crime? The argument remains that capital punishment is a violation of the Eight Amendment, which states that the U.S. cannot use “cruel and unusual” punishment. I have to ask, is not burning some one to death, cruel and unusual punishment? What about putting needles in a persons arm and putting them to sleep permanently? Arguments Against Capital Punishment
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3 was adopted by the United States in 1948 and states that the “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” And as we see in Article 5 states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” (Declaration of Human Rights). Many scholars and extremists, including the American Civil Liberties Union argue that the state should have no rights of killing any human being, regardless of the circumstances. The claim that capital punishment is not only cruel and inhumane, it is barbarous and brutalizing. It is believed by many that it is a waste of taxpayer’s money has no benefits. According to the FBI “the states that have the death penalty have the highest homicide rate.” Many times innocent people are sentenced to death and murdered by the state through the process of execution. According to a report from the ACLU “138 people have been released from death rows 26 states because of innocence. Furthermore, nationally one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed.” Irregardless of the Supreme Courts decision in 1976 behind the Gregg v Georgia, et al, the ACLU continues to oppose capital punishment on moral, practical, and constitutional grounds:
1. Capital punishment is cruel and unusual.
2. Capital punishment denies due process of law.
3. The death penalty violates the constitutional guarantee of equal
4. The death penalty is not a viable type of crime control.
5. Capital punishment wastes limited resources.
6. Opposing the death penalty does not represent a lack of concern for murder victims.
7. Changes in death sentencing have proved to be largely cosmetic. A society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. Arguments For Capital Punishment
One of the most amazing arguments that I have read in favor of capital punishment is from a Christian. He backed his words up pretty well – or was he reading something more into what the Bible was relaying to us. You decide. “The death penalty was first instituted by God Himself in Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Man didn’t invent the death penalty, so man has no right to abandon it. We live in an age when everyone is far too concerned with “human rights”, and God has been practically ignored, as if He had no rights at all. God does have rights, and it is His right to do as He pleases with His own creation. Man is the highest form of life on this earth, created in God’s own image, and crowned with glory and honor (Psa. 8:5).
God has given man the MORAL DUTY to execute those who choose to take the lives of others. Exodus 21:12 says, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.” Do you wish to honor God? Then you must support the death penalty, because God commands it. Someone says, “Well, that’s just the Old Testament law. The New Testament doesn’t support the death penalty.” I beg your pardon! Have you read Acts 25:11? Have you read Roman 13:1-4? What about Revelation 13:10? Friend, God has never changed His law of Capital Punishment for murderers!” (Retrieved from: http://www.biblebelievers.com/jmelton/punish.html)
There are those who believe the murderer has “earned” the right to the death penalty. It is thought by many that there is no guarantee that if they give the person life without parole, that one day they will not get out and kill again. After all, they have been locked up an awful long time, and many still carry a lot of anger inside and should they be released, even on a life-time parole, they could very well kill again. According to Steven D. Stewart, the Prosecuting Attorney for Clark County, Indiana, “No system of justice can produce results which are 100% certain all the time. Mistakes will be made in any system which relies upon human testimony for proof. We should be vigilant to uncover and avoid such mistakes. Our system of justice rightfully demands a higher standard for death penalty cases.
However, the risk of making a mistake with the extraordinary due process applied in death penalty cases is very small, and there is no credible evidence to show that any innocent persons have been executed at least since the death penalty was reactivated in 1976. The 100+ death row inmates “innocent”, “exonerated” and released, as trumpeted by anti-death penalty activists, is a fraud. The actual number of factually innocent released death row inmates is closer to 40, and in any event should be considered in context of over 7,000 death sentences handed down since 1973. It stands as the most accurate judgment/sentence in any system of justice ever created. The inevitability of a mistake should not serve as grounds to eliminate the death penalty any more than the risk of having a fatal wreck should make automobiles illegal. At the same time, we should never ignore the risks of allowing the inmate to kill again.” (2012)
According to supporters of the death penalty debate that it is morally justified in murder cases with aggravating circumstances, such as torture or terrorism. According to Robert Blecker, a New York law professor, “the punishment must be painful in proportion to the crime. It would be unfair that those who have committed these horrible crimes stay alive, even incarcerated.”
Other arguments in favor of capital punishment is the cost due to the continued appeals, the overcrowding of the prisons. The person is guilty, they are not arguing that they did the crime in these appeals. They are fighting to live, to not be put to death. Everyone is going to die one day, what difference does it make when, is what many say.
Others say it gives the victim’s families satisfaction and closure and it gives warnings to other criminals of how they could end up. Conclusion
Priscilla Ford was a mass murderer who willfully drove down a busy Reno street and killed six people, and injured 23 others on Thanksgiving Day in 1980. Speaking with her, I found that she was still full of anger, and really had no remorse for what she did. In talking with her for a short time before her death, she told me “I would do it all over again.” Is Priscilla one that should have been executed? I am normally against the death penalty, but in her case, I would have to
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