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November 2, 2013

"Bring Back the Guillotine"

131031_JURIS_Guillotine_MaAntoinette.jpg.CROP.original-originalThe title of this post is the headline of this new Slate commentary by John Kruzel.  Here are excerpts:

A nationwide shortage of a key ingredient used in lethal injections has led some states to experiment with new, untested drug cocktails for executing death row inmates. The practice has raised moral and constitutional questions, and unleashed a wave of litigation. At this point, as a society, we should be asking whether we can stand by and watch as this barbaric practice continues. Are these iffy drug combinations really any better than the guillotine?

Bringing back the guillotine may sound crazy, but it’s certainly better than the current alternative. It’s better for prisoners because quickly severing the head is believed to be one of the quickest, least painful ways to die. And it’s better for organ recipients because the bodies of guillotined prisoners could be more quickly harvested for viable parts, unlike organs that may become unusable after lethal injection due to hypoxemia.

To be clear, I find capital punishment abhorrent in theory and practice. Even if you believe the death penalty is morally acceptable, evidence of wrongful executions and the large number of inmates having been condemned to death before being exonerated shows its undeniable failings. But until the Supreme Court overturns precedents saying that state-sanctioned executions are not cruel and unusual punishment, shouldn’t we strive to make executions the most humane that they can possibly be? Lethal injection — the current method of execution of the federal government and the 32 states with the death penalty — and the guillotine are both evils, but the guillotine is the lesser evil of the two....

One familiar position put forth by advocates of lethal injection is that the three-drug cocktail is far less offensive than the guillotine — to witnesses. Some state laws grant victims’ families the right to view executions. Would bringing back the guillotine fail to consider the feelings of those who would have to watch someone get his head severed?

In short, no. As Michael Lawrence Goodwin argues, there are two main reasons why victims’ families watch executions: out of a desire to represent a murdered family member at what they consider the ultimate stage of criminal justice, and because of a need for closure. A guillotine execution would not devalue someone’s symbolic presence, and it may actually better facilitate closure for certain witnesses....

Those who would be up for watching a state-sanctioned beheading should heed the warning of Albert Camus. The author and philosopher once told a biographer the story of his father’s experience witnessing the guillotine in action: “He got up in the dark to go to the place of execution at the other end of town amid a great crowd of people. What he saw that morning he never told anyone. My mother relates merely that he came rushing home, his face distorted, refused to talk, lay down for a moment on the bed, and suddenly began to vomit.”

As Camus made clear, capital punishment is always a barbaric practice. If we’re going to continue to allow it in the United States, maybe it makes sense to be confronted by how gruesome it really is.

November 2, 2013 at 05:43 PM | Permalink


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John Kruzel, how civilized are the 17,000 extra-judicial executions that take place every year? Not a word about victims from this hypocrite.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 2, 2013 8:54:39 PM

To my knowledge the guillotine was never used within the limits that have since become the US, so to say bring it back seems somewhat odd.

Gallows on the other hand ...

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 2, 2013 11:27:42 PM

Send that Commie, Camus and his father, to the location where little 9 year old Jessica was buried alive holding her little blue dolphin in a garbage bag, after John Couey had used her as fuck doll for a week. Couey entered her bedroom and took her from her own home. The idiot police, the agents of the lawyer dumbass, procriminal, criminal lover lawyer, interviewed him at the door, as she was hidden still alive in his closet. .

John Couey a busy, habitual child rapist had been kept alive by the lawyer traitor past age 14, and likely had 100's of victims.

After his death sentence, he developed anal cancer and was given expensive top notch, expensive cancer treatment at taxpayer expense, instead of being dispatched on the spot. Couey died of cancer. Only the medical profession reaped our revenge on him by torturing him with their torture type treatments. Why? The lawyer traitor has to have his government make jobs.

Then the lawyer dumbass enacts, Jessica's Law, which would not have helped little Jessica in the least. Only killing the traitor lawyer hierarchy, then all violent criminals before age 18 would have helped little Jessica. Behead the entire criminal lover lawyer hierarchy, all 15,000, all on a good day, right after their fair one hour trials. The Inquisition 1.0 ended when French patriots beheaded 10,000 high church officials. That is the model to end the Inquisition 2.0.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 3, 2013 1:21:33 AM

@Soronel Haetir

Beheading was available in Utah during the Territorial Era.

Posted by: visitor | Nov 3, 2013 7:58:29 AM

I'm all for the public's viewing executions, just as soon as the law provides for equally widespread and graphic viewing of the murder, or, if that's not possible, of the autopsy of the murder victim.

If we're going to put on display the result (the execution), we should be intellectually honest enough to put on equal display the cause (the murder).

Any takers among the abolitionist crowd? Why not? Do you want to portray the killer as the helpless victim while sweeping under the rug the REAL victim?

I recently did a talk at the University of Baltimore Law School about the DP. I told the audience the story of Elias Ocean Johnson, a six month-old little boy, who was beaten to death by his father to avoid paying child support to the mother.

In order to kill the kid, the father hit him EIGHTY-FIVE TIMES. The story is here: http://www.northescambia.com/2011/10/exclusive-baby-killer-set-to-be-executed-babys-mom-speaks-out

The story contains a picture of the kid when he was still a smiling, happy child. I showed that picture to the audience. I then asked how many of them were eager to see pictures of the boy's autopsy, and wanted to see what a six month-old looked like after he had been hit 85 times by an adult man.

Not a single hand went up.

This is not because abolitionists are cowards. It's because they have the good sense to avoid looking at the results of the behavior they want to whistle past with faux-outraged and absurd talk of the guillotine -- stories like the one in this post.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 3, 2013 9:13:03 AM

Outrage. Outrage at murderers. Let the crowd have them. Lynch them in Lynchberg. Cut their dead bodies up and feed the vultures. Poison is too slow. Electrocution too expensive. Gas too cumbersome. Lynch em and cut em up. God hath no fury like a lynch mob scorned.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Nov 3, 2013 11:05:05 AM

But of course when my time comes at the Pearly Gates for the interview I can tell Saint Peter that I wrote the foregoing in jest and that I am in favor of Capital Punishment. i.e. punishment of all those in the Capital who work on Sunday.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Nov 3, 2013 11:06:59 AM

visitor ,

Thanks, I was not aware of that.

Was it something that was just on the books or was it actually used?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 3, 2013 11:33:53 AM

Bring back the pillory! We use to have it, but now we insist on standard sized cells. Since we don't want to end imprisonment, then let's not put on a false front. After all, we're not being honest with ourselves if we're not willing to revert to some old-fashioned imprisonment device that made the whole affair public and gruesome!

What utter vapid nonsense this stuff is.

Posted by: ihave1neuronatleast | Nov 3, 2013 12:30:30 PM

Liberty1st --

You can't tell the difference between blind outrage and the desire for justice? Really?

If you tell me you can't, I guess I'll believe you, but otherwise I'm just not buying it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 3, 2013 12:47:35 PM

ihave1neuronatleast --

Nailed it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 3, 2013 12:51:59 PM

Bill: I know you are sarcastic when saying the public should view the executions.

So this is not a criticism of your comment.

The reason to not allow the public to view the execution is contagion, and highly rewarding nature of public notoriety.

First, skanky serial killers often get fan mail from women, with offers of marriage, and not by elderly, stupid ugly women, regular women. After any appearance on TV, have you noticed that women you know just stare at you?

Second, after the Youtube posting of Saddam Hussein's hanging, 100's of kids around the world hanged themselves, over and above the expected number. After seeing it and getting a translation of all the Arabic cursing he did, I, myself dreamt that I asked for an expresso, drank it, and leaped over the edge to hang myself, in the style of the Italian Olympic skier, Alberto Tomba.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 3, 2013 3:10:20 PM


Copycat suicides sound like a benefit to me rather than a cost (which is also more or less how I view drug abuse overdose deaths).

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 3, 2013 3:41:31 PM

@Bill Otis

I think the main motivation very few people want to see such pictures is simply the gruesome nature of the crime.

@Soronel Haetir

It was one of the three modes of execution available (with firing squad and hanging) and has never been used.

Posted by: visitor | Nov 3, 2013 3:46:31 PM

Soronel: I once attended a conference of the county Suicide Prevention Foundation annual meeting of the families. I had to leave because I was disrupting the place. I could not control my sobbing during the quiet presentations on people's lost children. Most of the kids were just depressed, a treatable condition. Some were superb human beings, with very great achievements for their ages. The value lost to the rest of us is likely in the $billions for each one of those high achievement kids. A psychiatrist I know had a son, an A student, great athlete, beloved, accepted by Ivy college. 10,000 people attended his funeral at Catholic cathedral (!!). He went to the Shore, in the local tradition of celebrating graduation. Drunk. Hanged himself. Really painful. Think of what we are missing from his potential accomplishments, even if he had chosen law school.

I support encouraging suicide for violent repeat offenders, with money, privileges, etc. But their suicides would benefit the rest of us, and prevent hundreds of future victimizations by the incapacitation of death.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 3, 2013 4:17:51 PM


I believe that the savings from the numerous stupid and reckless killing themselves would more than make up for the odd case where a promising individual takes that route.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 3, 2013 6:09:49 PM

Using Wikipedia's numbers for simplicity, eighteen states are "abolitionists," so each time Bill Otis, e.g., speaks about "abolitionists," note the people's representatives of these states are part of what we are talking about:

Alaska (1957)
Connecticut (2012)1
Hawaii (1957)
Illinois (2011)
Iowa (1965)
Maine (1887)
Maryland (2013)1
Massachusetts (1984)2
Michigan (1846)
Minnesota (1911)
New Jersey (2007)
New Mexico (2009)1
New York (2007)2
North Dakota (1973)
Rhode Island (1984)
Vermont (1964)3
West Virginia (1965)
Wisconsin (1853)

Vermont has it for treason. In two, it was struck down by the courts -- I don't know about MA, but in NY, the state now had six years to pass a new statute, but it never to my understanding (including in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, but it was passed repeatedly in both houses in the past -- the problem was Mario Cuomo vetoed it) that there was much of a push to amend the law to fix it. It is basically never applied in most of the other ones. Even in places like Florida, only a handful was executed in the last decade.

Traditionally, it was deemed appropriate to have public executions. This was seen as morally sound and a deterrent. But, the public over the years found this distasteful ... sort of cruel and unusual, for many more to themselves than those executed. They want the few executed out of the way and quietly. A guillotine (or firing squad or hanging) would not be to their liking. Some, including those who support the death penalty, think otherwise. Few do.

So, the guillotine is not coming to our shores. To the degree it might be safer for the person executed, the squick factor and belief it is barbaric (rightly or wrongly) to use it will not make it a credible technique. This also will not likely result in most states to bring back the firing squad for somewhat related reasons, even if it is easier to kill people than option the right drug cocktail and there is a chance it is somewhat better for the executed person as a matter of safety. The margin is also too small to counteract the squick.


* Bill Otis mentioned offering to show people pictures of some dead child or whatever. No one wants to see that. They also don't want to see pictures of people raped, beaten up, poisoned by corporations punished by the state for dumping or any number of things. They also -- though a few say they do and maybe are serious -- don't want to see the people being punished or executed.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 4, 2013 11:51:59 AM

ETA: The few who want to see the execution include some victims of the execution -- others don't want to see the execution, some are against the death penalty even for the people who murdered their love ones.

"option" should read "obtaining" ... obtaining execution drugs is getting difficult, but it is unlikely the states will start shooting people though it is presumptively constitution under current precedents and involves something there is no shortage of. Distaste of that means of execution is a major reason why it will not come back.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 4, 2013 11:57:05 AM

i think the biggest reason public executions stopped was the large crowds drew too many damn crooks! who then fleeced the crowd!

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 4, 2013 12:05:06 PM

Joe --

"Using Wikipedia's numbers for simplicity, eighteen states are "abolitionists," so each time Bill Otis, e.g., speaks about "abolitionists," note the people's representatives of these states are part of what we are talking about..."

Just a question:

In how many of those states was the DP done away with by a direct vote of the people?

Hint: Zero. And the people of California voted very recently to keep the DP, isn't that correct?

"Bill Otis mentioned offering to show people pictures of some dead child or whatever."

What I actually offered was to show the abolitionists (among law students attending a panel about the DP) the handiwork of one particular killer whose side in the sentencing debate they take.

"No one wants to see that."

Correct -- they didn't want to see it. I fully agree that abolitionists want to cover up the results of the crimes we're talking about. This is at the same time they're falling all over themselves to get executions televised, so that, in the words of the article, "If we’re going to continue to allow it in the United States, maybe it makes sense to be confronted by how gruesome it really is."

So you folks want to see how "gruesome" the DP is, but simultaneously want to sweep under the rug what is actually gruesome, to wit, the corpse of the little boy who was belted 85 times by a man you would fully support at his sentencing hearing.

Well, gosh, I'm glad you guys aren't being hypocritical or anything. Full disclosure for thee but not for me.

"They also don't want to see pictures of people raped, beaten up, poisoned by corporations punished by the state for dumping or any number of things."

I agree with that too. The pro-crime side wants to keep the handiwork of criminals behind the curtain, so they can pretend that all the problems we have are THE SYSTEM'S fault.

Far out!

In other words, those who are defense-friendly want to create a one-sided and massively distorted picture. Joe, I appreciate your laying the cards on the table like that.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 4, 2013 2:40:53 PM

Joe: There is a lively death penalty going on. There are 17,000 extra-judicial executions, many of innocent children and strangers. Hundreds are committed inside prison by felons on LWOP. One guard officer said, after the murder of a female guard, "He is definitely losing his cafeteria privileges." What do you think, too harsh?

Tell us how you would reduce that lively death penalty practice, killing 17,000, many in slow gruesome ways. Many just for fun, many just to enhance sexual pleasure by slitting the little girls throat at the time of orgasm.

Here is another. Cigarettes and alcohol kill 500,000 people a year, with the foreseeability of planetary orbits. Many have cancer spread over their bones in 100 places, each with the pain of a bone fracture, lasting for months. Many are slowly garotted by their lungs filling with tumors and fluids. How would you stop this carnage?

Finally, around 3 million people die a year. About 10% have a nice death like the one in lethal injection. The remainder go slowly, with humiliation, and agonies lasting weeks. Why should murderers have a better death than the reasonable person does?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 4, 2013 5:38:51 PM

"I then asked how many of them were eager to see pictures of the boy's autopsy,..."
What a sensationalist question to ask an audience in order to make your point, that sounds as warped as those wanting to look at it. As most in your audience probably already knew, just like cp and everything else, that kind of sick trash is widely available for viewing to anyone via the internet. What is the redeeming value to have someone ask such a thing as part of a educational lecture? Did you not have a slight hesitant or uncomfortable feeling after asking such a question. Evidently the audience must have been wiser beyond their years as evidenced by the silence that met the question.

Posted by: Russell L. | Nov 4, 2013 5:50:37 PM

Russell L. --

The article posted here is mostly an argument that people supporting the death penalty should watch executions in order to understand just how gruesome they are. I note you express no consternation about that. Why, then, are you outraged when I ask those opposing the death penalty if they want to see the autopsy picture of the murder victim?

If we are going to see in graphic detail the result (the execution), then shouldn't we be equally willing to see, in the same detail, the cause (the murder)?

You just want to paint a distorted picture of the killer as helpless victim, and the murder victim as a vanished nonentity.

I won't be going along with that distortion. If you don't like it, tough.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 4, 2013 9:45:08 PM

"You just want to paint a distorted picture of the killer as helpless victim, and the murder victim as a vanished nonentity."

Absolutely incorrect and I don't agree with the public execution angle either. Anyone who would suggest viewing such a display must have some deeply seated sadistic character flaw within them or is simply just a pure retributionist at heart.

If you don't like it, tough.

Posted by: Russell L. | Nov 7, 2013 5:28:09 PM

You look at all of these people out and about in the world with these weird fetishes, pedophilia, rapists, addicts of all varieties, gangsters, murderers, lonely people, and people with terminal diseases. All of these people are unfit for society and are looking for a way out. They don't fit into society and have no hopes of living a normal life.

Don't just bring back the guillotine as a choice for execution. Bring back the guillotine as a way out of life.

I bet that if you brought back the guillotine then you would have thousands of people looking forward to get their heads chopped off.

Just set the guillotine up at the edge of the city dump and make it free of charge. Then all of the over growths of society can go free themselves of the burden of life.

I'm sick of looking at all of these depressed fat people and sickos with weird fetishes get their own TV shows. Bring the guillotine back and it will become more popular than Prozac, Ritalin, Zoloft, Celexa, Praxil, cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines, and krocodil combined.

Posted by: M | Feb 27, 2014 9:10:59 PM

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