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June 16, 2010

"Experts argue firing squad is a humane execution"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new AP article.  Here are some excerpts:

A condemned Utah inmate's decision to die in a barrage of bullets fired by five unnamed marksmen has been vilified by many as an archaic form of Old West-style justice. But some experts argue it is more humane than all other execution methods, without the court challenges of cruelty that have plagued lethal injection.

"Lethal injection, which has the veneer of medical acceptability, has far greater risks of cruelty to a condemned person," said Fordham University Law School professor Deborah Denno, who has written extensively on the constitutional questions that surround execution methods.

The reasons that Ronnie Lee Gardner chose death by firing squad are unrelated to the drama or controversy it evokes, his attorney told The Associated Press. "It's not about the publicity. He just prefers it," Andrew Parnes said....

Gardner, 49, was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner was at the court because he faced a murder charge in the shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom.

Barring any last minute stays, Gardner will be the first person to die by firing squad in the United States in 14 years. He will be the third man killed by that same method in Utah since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976: Gary Gilmore on Jan. 17, 1977 - after famously uttering the last words, "Let's do it" - and John Albert Taylor on Jan. 26, 1996.

Of the 49 executions held in Utah since the 1850s, 40 were by firing squad. The method has also been widely used around the globe and was long the primary method of execution employed by the military, even in the U.S.

But lethal injection has become the primary method used by most of the 35 states that still have capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center website. Yet it isn't without controversy.

University of Colorado law professor Michael Radlet has been tracking botched executions in the U.S. and found some 42 cases that went wrong between 1982 and September 2009. Of those executions, 30 were lethal injection, 10 were electrocution and two were from asphyxiation after exposure to lethal gas....

Historians say the method stems from 19th Century doctrine of the state's predominant religion. Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believed in the concept of "blood atonement" - that only through spilling one's own blood could a condemned person adequately atone for their crimes and be redeemed in the next life. The church no longer preaches such teachings and offers no opinion on the use of the firing squad.

Death penalty advocate Kent Scheidegger agrees that capital punishment should not amount to torture, but says the average person "is not really all that concerned with a murderer experiencing painless death." Public debate is focused more on the larger issue of the death penalty and whether or not the punishment deters crime.

"Arguing over the method of execution is kind of a distraction," said Scheidegger, legal director of the Sacramento, Calif., Criminal Justice Legal Foundation....

Gardner is one of at least four of 10 men on Utah's death row who have said they want to die by firing squad.

June 16, 2010 at 11:14 PM | Permalink


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There are so many botched executions by lethal injection methods and my opinion rests positively with executing a serial criminal with a hail of bullets. The least is that he or she does not have to suffer long. Blood oozing from the body may be gory but at least death in a way is humane. But having said that executions in general are cruel and unusual. Best is to abolish it and restore life imprisonment or solitary life imprisonment as the main alternative.

Posted by: Dominic Chan | Jun 17, 2010 12:52:39 AM

Anyone who has spent even a short time in prison, as a visitor, or as a professional seeing a prisoner, would know it. The death penalty is not automatically crueler than life in prison. The overwhelming majority of us will undergo a cruel, painful, humiliating, prolonged death. Why cold hearted, dangerous killers should have the painless, quick, perfect death as a standard has to justified. The main justification is to generate $billions in much needed lawyer appellate practice sinecures.

See this intense article as to the state of the lawyer profession, written by a law prof.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 17, 2010 6:36:21 AM

My father used to suggest that the best way for criminals to be executed was by hypoxia. A sealed cubicle could be constructed in which the criminal would be placed. Slowly the air in the cubicle would be exchanged with nitrogen, or other inert gas, without oxygen. The criminal would slowly go to sleep, then his brain would shut down his body due to lack of oxygen. Death would be painless in only about 20 minutes. There is no need to cause suffering. If the criminal has believed in Jesus and repented of his sins, no punishment, no matter how painful, will keep him out of heaven. If he has not believed and repented, even the least painful method will not keep him from the horrors of hell.

Posted by: Wally Scherer | Jun 17, 2010 5:50:33 PM

Were I in such a situation (highly unlikely since I don't plan on committing any capital offenses) I think I would choose the firing squad if it were available.

It seems like a quick way to go, and a way to "die like a man".

Posted by: ICDogg | Jun 17, 2010 6:28:49 PM

"the average person 'is not really all that concerned with a murderer experiencing painless death.'"


Posted by: cmt | Jun 18, 2010 9:54:28 AM

I would think that life in prison, or life in solitary would be far more cruel than a quick death. Though I belong to the "average person" category that is not really that concerned about someone, having been deemed deserving of the death penalty, getting what's coming to them. My concern would be to expedite the process and get it over with.

Posted by: Dallas | Jun 18, 2010 12:00:43 PM

Why is it that those who oppose the death penalty also oppose lengthy prison terms? Do they have some magic answer that will rehabilitate murderers?

Posted by: Gary Smith | Jun 19, 2010 1:36:32 AM

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