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December 18, 2007

"Interview With an Executioner"

The title of thie post is the headline of this piece at ABC News based on the interview given by Jerry Givens, the former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia (hat tip: TalkLeft).  Here is how the lengthy piece starts:

Jerry Givens spent 17 years as a professional killer. From 1982 to 1999, he killed 62 people. He was never punished. His work was paid for by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As the state's chief executioner, Givens pushed the buttons that administered lethal doses of electricity to the condemned. He could even choose how many volts to administer. And he is the first to admit that it was largely guesswork. "If he was a small guy, I didn't give that much. You try not to cook the body, you know. I hate to sound gross,'' he told ABC News in a rare interview.

Only a handful of executioners in America have ever spoken publicly about their experiences, and fewer, if any, have revealed the emotional toll the job can take on a person or the mind-set of the man behind the proverbial mask.  Givens told ABC News that his experiences in the death chamber have caused him to change course and oppose the death penalty.

Givens defies the stereotype of the cold-souled executioner.  A deeply religious layman, Givens claimed he prayed with many of the condemned men he was about to execute, a bold gesture at odds with the grim, emotionless solemnity with which executions are often portrayed in the movies.  He said he'd suggest to a condemned man that this was a last chance to repent and seek forgiveness from God.  And he said he'd join the men in prayer. No one's tomorrow is guaranteed, he said.

December 18, 2007 at 11:24 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Ugh, usuing the executioner to try to coerce a last-minute confession out of the condemned (particularly through religious babble) is maybe the most horrendous abuse of the death penalty I've yet to hear.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 18, 2007 12:02:38 PM

That part at the end is disgusting, but since we don’t have videotape of the killings we don’t know if it is wishful thinking or whether he was telling the truth.

Whatever the case, I think this article serves a useful process in a democracy. We need to expose the death penalty in all its detail so that a truly democratic choice can be made. Veiling it in secrecy takes away from the electorate’s ability to determine whether killing is right or not. And, of course, executioner should be an official elected in a partisan election.

So, again, I think that executions should be 1) televised; 2) show in schools; and 3) placed on Youtube. The public’s understanding of the killing process is vital to democracy. If you disagree with me 1) you hate a free press; 2) you hate democracy; 3) you think the DP is not a deterrent; 4) you prefer unelected bureaucrats over elected officials.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 12:46:33 PM

I absolutely agree that executions should be televised. However, I think it would backfire. People would come to love it, they'd schedule their lives around it like the Superbowl, and would be really pissed off if their newfound entertainment came to an end b/c the DP was outlawed.

"The Execution of ____" would be the highest rated show on TV. I think people might even demand more executions. A few dozen a year simply is not enough.

If they put it on Pay Per View, they'd rake in millions per execution. But I'd want it to be shown for free, in primetime, right in the middle of American Idol.

Even so, I think they should be televised. If not solely out of principles of open government, open courts, and the First Amendment.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 18, 2007 1:54:32 PM

Keep in mind they don't execute people anymore, so there wouldn't be much to watch. You'd see somebody stick someone with a needle.

Posted by: Confused | Dec 18, 2007 2:08:36 PM

Bruce, I think after the first few, people would come to love it. I mean, Texas kills so many people that it hardly makes news.

"Keep in mind they don't execute people anymore, so there wouldn't be much to watch. You'd see somebody stick someone with a needle."

This is unclear. We would want to see the entire killing process, and if it is really as humane and boring as you say, then we could believe you.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 2:13:49 PM

The idea of televising executions was dealt with in a delightfully awful 1994 made-for-TV movie called Witness to the Execution. I hope to see it cited in briefing when the issue is litigated.

Posted by: YesBut | Dec 18, 2007 3:36:40 PM

Confused: lethal injection is still execution. Are you saying it's not? If you're pointing out that lethal injetion is not as dramatic as hanging, firing squad, or old sparky, I'm not sure that I agree with you. Especially if the reports of 8-15 minutes of twiching are accurate (and i'm sure they are).

Sure, the electric chair would provide the highest entertainment value per minute of TV time. I don't disagree with that. But people would still be glued to their TV's to watch the plungers go down as the lethal drug cocktail starts flowing through the tubes.

And don't forget the defendant's "final words"... that alone would cause millions to tune in. I bet the first televised lethal injection execution, from "final words" until "pronounced dead at 12:09am" (they'd have to stop with the midnight executions and move it to primetime) would get higher ratings than the Superbowl.

I wonder what parental guidance rating (TV-G, TV-MA, etc.) it would get? I would suggest TV-G... clearly children should see it. You can't argue children should read the Bible (most violent crap ever) and not watch executions. What better way to instill values upon little Timmy, be good or else we'll be watching YOUR execution on TV....

Posted by: bruce | Dec 18, 2007 6:06:47 PM

Bruce, I am so happy that someone finally agrees with me.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 8:28:33 PM

Bruce, I am so happy that someone finally agrees with me.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 18, 2007 8:28:50 PM

I am unclear as to why we should stop with the death penalty? Should there not be a camera on the head of every soldier fighting in battle? They are fighting for a public good, on the public dole. Should the public not be able to see the the killing that they do in the public's name? If we are going to make killing out as entertainment, then we should give the public the whole deal. Indeed, why even stop with human killing. We should televise the killing of pigs and chickens as these are inspected by the USDA. Forget Slaughterhouse Five, we need to bring the public Slaughterhouse Live!!

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 18, 2007 9:13:43 PM

Open Courts mean every aspect of the process should be seen by the public (whoever wants to watch). It's hypocritical to say that we should have the death penalty but that it must be done behind closed doors (literally) and only a few people get to see it.

It also bugs me that the victim's family is always invited. How about having the death penalty without letting the victim's family (i'm assuming the victim is dead) watch? It would be worth it just to see the outrage and indignation. It's gotten to the point where it's assumed that families of victims have an actual fundamental right to attend the execution of the murderer of their family member. Like knowing the guy is dead is not enough "closure" for them, they have to actually watch it, too.

Blah.

S.cotus: you mean agree with you about whether we should televise executions (yes) or whether the broadcasts thereof would be immensely popular (yes)? Or both? Just curious.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 18, 2007 9:58:54 PM

As to the first, I agree with you that executions should be televised and archived. This fills a fital constitutional role allows Americans to make a truly informed

As to the second, upon further reflection I agree with you – at least as an initial matter executions would be popular. There are a number of reasons for this. People have a morbid interest in death. People like to see other people helplessly suffer. People like to see some vindication.

As most people know, I don’t really think much of the “victims rights” industry. It is hardly a “movement” because “victims” are neither coherent nor united by any view of justice. When the “family” of the likely victim attends they like to think they have “closure.” But what they really have is the word of the “state” that there is closure. It may well be that the wrong man is being executed and they are giddy with glee at killing someone for something they didn’t do. But, this is as much closure as the victims’ rights industry can offer. I hope someone is getting rich off this crap, because it sure isn’t helping anyone else.

Posted by: S.cotus | Dec 19, 2007 11:07:53 AM

S.cotus: We definitely agree re: victim's rights movement. You will appreciate my latest rant on the topic on the victim's rights movement thread two or three threads below this one, where someone dares to disagree with me. heh.

Posted by: bruce | Dec 19, 2007 4:19:42 PM

I've attended a few executions in Virginia, as have some colleagues. We felt that lethal injection, from our perspective, put the inmate out into deep unconsciousness within 15-20 seconds of the first drug being administered. Likewise, with electrocution, the inmate's neurons were incapacitated by the high intensity amperage/voltage within miliseconds of the switch being thrown, leaving an involuntarily twitching vegetable strapped in the chair.

Mr. Givens did a good job with the role he was given, except for his fraternizing with the inmates before hand. The executioner should not be participating in baptismal ceremonies and the like, as Givens was, or in one instance he filmed a "stay out of prison" educational video with an inmate he later executed. Just as we wouldn't ask a veterinarian to put their own dog to sleep, it is wrong to have gotten Givens so familiar with the inmates. Ultimately, it caught up with him psychologically.

Executions in Virginia are open to six citizen witnesses by law, one can apply for the opportunity if they want. I oppose putting such things on television though, for television would inevitably sensationalize and trivialize the seriousness of event, and minimize the telling of the case circumstances that led to this punishment.

Posted by: Kilby | Dec 20, 2007 7:52:32 PM

I've attended a few executions in Virginia, as have some colleagues. We felt that lethal injection, from our perspective, put the inmate out into deep unconsciousness within 15-20 seconds of the first drug being administered. Likewise, with electrocution, the inmate's neurons were incapacitated by the high intensity amperage/voltage within miliseconds of the switch being thrown, leaving an involuntarily twitching vegetable strapped in the chair.

Mr. Givens did a good job with the role he was given, except for his fraternizing with the inmates before hand. The executioner should not be participating in baptismal ceremonies and the like, as Givens was, or in one instance he filmed a "stay out of prison" educational video with an inmate he later executed. Just as we wouldn't ask a veterinarian to put their own dog to sleep, it is wrong to have gotten Givens so familiar with the inmates. Ultimately, it caught up with him psychologically.

Executions in Virginia are open to six citizen witnesses by law, one can apply for the opportunity if they want. I oppose putting such things on television though, for television would inevitably sensationalize and trivialize the seriousness of event, and minimize the telling of the case circumstances that led to this punishment.

Posted by: Kilby | Dec 20, 2007 7:53:49 PM

It's a kinda freaky think about a person who spend 17 years killing people without hesitation. Is this guy monster or a plain heartless creature without will, dreams or reason ?

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