Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Uncruel and Usual Capital Punishment, Part Four

From the Clark County (Indiana) prosecutor:


Procedure: State statutes typically provide: "The sentence shall be executed by causing to pass through the body of the convict a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to cause death, and the application and continuance of such current through the body of such convict shall continue until such convict is dead."

The execution protocol for most jurisdictions authorizes the use of a wooden chair with restraints and connections to an electric current. The offender enters the execution chamber and is placed in the electric chair. The chair is constructed of oak and is set on a rubber matting and bolted to a concrete floor. Lap, chest, arm, and forearm straps are secured. A leg piece (anklet) is laced to the offender's right calf and a sponge and electrode is attached. The headgear consists of a metal headpiece covered with a leather hood which conceals the offender's face. The metal part of the headpiece consists of a copper wire mesh screen to which the electrode is brazened. A wet sponge is placed between the electrode and the offender's scalp. The safety switch is closed. The circuit breaker is engaged. The execution control panel is activated. The automatic cycle begins with the programmed 2,300 volts (9.5 amps) for eight seconds, followed by 1,000 volts (4 amps) for 22 seconds, followed by 2,300 volts (9.5 amps) for eight seconds. When the cycle is complete, the equipment is disconnected and the manual circuit behind the chair is disengaged. If the offender is not pronounced dead, the execution cycle is then repeated. (See Florida Execution Procedures).

The most common problems encountered include burning of varying degrees to parts of the body, and a failure of the procedures to cause death without repeated shocks. Witness accounts of many botched executions over the years have caused electrocution to be replaced with lethal injection as the most common method of execution.

History: In 1888, New York became the first state to adopt electrocution as its method of execution. William Kemmler was the first man executed by electrocution in 1890. See, In re Kemmler, 136 U.S. 436 (1890). The last state to adopt electrocution as a method of execution was in 1949. From 1930-1980 it was clearly the most common method of execution in the United States.

Current Application: Only Nebraska currently uses electrocution as the sole method of execution. 9 other states provide for electrocution as an alternative method, depending upon the choice of the inmate, the date of the execution or sentence, or the possibility of the method being held unconstitutional. Of the countries outside the United States that impose capital punishment, none prescribe execution by electrocution. Both the Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinarian Medical Association condemn electrocution as a method of euthanasia for animals. As of July 1, 2006, 152 of 1,029 (14.7%) executions performed since 1976 have been by electrocution. Most recently, Brandon Hedrick elected electrocution in Virginia and was executed on iJuly 20, 2006.

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