Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Uncruel and Usual Capital Punishment, Part Seven

My last item from the Clark County (Indiana) prosecutor website:


Procedure: Shooting can be carried out by a single executioner who fires from short range at the back of the head or neck as in China. The traditional firing squad is made up of three to six shooters per prisoner who stand or kneel opposite the condemned who is usually tied to a chair or to a stake. Normally the shooters aim at the chest, since this is easier to hit than the head, causing rupture of the heart, great vessels, and lungs so that the condemned person dies of hemorrhage and shock. It is not unusual for the officer in charge to have to give the prisoner a pistol shot to the head to finish them off after the initial volley has failed to kill them.

The Utah statute authorizing execution by firing squad only provides: "If the judgment of death is to be carried out by shooting, the executive director of the department or his designee shall select a five-person firing squad of peace officers." At the appropriate time, the condemned offender is led to the execution area or chamber, which is used for both lethal injection and firing squad executions. The offender is placed in a specially designed chair which has a pan beneath it to catch and conceal blood and other fluids. Restraints are applied to the offender's arms, legs, chest and head. A head restraint is applied loosely around the offender's neck to hold his neck and head in an upright position. The offender is dressed in a dark blue outfit with a white cloth circle attached by Velcro to the area over the offender's heart. Behind the offender are sandbags to absorb the volley and prevent ricochets. Approximately 20 feet directly in front of the offender is a wall. This wall has firing ports for each member of the firing squad. The weapons used are 30_30 caliber rifles. No special ammunition is used. Following the offender's statement, a hood is placed over the offender's head. The warden leaves the room. The firing squad members stand in the firing position. They support their rifles on the platform rests. With their rifle barrels in the firing ports, the team members sight through open sights on the white cloth circle on the offender's chest. On the command to fire, the squad fires simultaneously. One squad member has a blank charge in his weapon but no member knows which member is designated to receive this blank charge. (See Utah Execution Procedures).

History: In recent history only two inmates have been executed by firing squad, both in Utah: Gary Gilmore (1977) and John Albert Taylor (1996). While the method was popular with the military in times of war, there has been one such execution since the Civil War: Private Eddie Slovak in WWII.

Current Application: Only 3 states, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah, currently authorize shooting as a method of execution, all as an alternative to lethal injection, depending upon the choice of the inmate, whether injection is “impractical, or the possibility of lethal injection being held unconstitutional. As of July 1, 2006, 2 of 1,029 (0.2%) executions performed since 1976 have been by firing squad.

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