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April 11, 2022

"The Return of the Firing Squad?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable new Marshall Project piece, which gets started this way:

Six years ago, a man on death row in Nevada named Scott Dozier said he wanted to give up his legal fight and be executed, but there was a problem.  Prison officials couldn’t find lethal injection drugs.  Amid the ensuing legal turmoil, Dozier tossed off his own solution, telling me during an interview, “I’d have been just as happy if they took me out back and shot me.”

Dozier’s death, in 2019, was ruled a suicide, but now his words seem prescient. On Thursday, South Carolina scheduled the execution of Richard Moore — convicted of murder in a 2001 convenience story robbery — for April 29. Because state officials say they can’t secure lethal injection drugs, they will give him the choice between the electric chair and the firing squad.  Officials have spent $53,000, by their own estimate, to renovate part of a prison to allow a three-person firing squad to carry out executions, including adding bulletproof glass to protect witnesses.

South Carolina’s not alone: Oklahoma and Mississippi have also formally adopted the firing squad, though Utah remains the only state that has actually used the method in the last century. The U.S. Supreme Court has told death row prisoners that if they want to fight lethal injection in court, they need to propose an alternative. Following dozens of botched, evidently painful lethal injections in recent years, prisoners in at least 10 states have been making a surreal argument: They would prefer the firing squad.

So, are we really about to start shooting prisoners?  Although the method strikes many as cruel and archaic, conversations with scholars and a review of history suggest we should also ask why we have so consistently avoided the firing squad. The answers suggest that this is about more than just another execution method.  The firing squad dredges up some of the core contradictions at the heart of American capital punishment.

“It’s an almost instantaneous death, it’s the cheapest, it’s the simplest, it has the lowest ‘botch’ rate,” said Corinna Lain, a law professor at the University of Richmond.  (Federal judges have made similar points.)  At the same time, it’s “more honest,” she said.  Lain and other scholars have argued that Americans have long wanted — not always consciously — to disguise the violence of capital punishment.  “We don’t want a mess,” wrote Douglas B. Kamerow, a former assistant surgeon general, in The BMJ, a medical journal published by the British Medical Association.  “We want these evil people to disappear, to be dead, but most of us don’t want to feel bad about how they died.”

April 11, 2022 at 01:34 PM | Permalink

Comments

I have long thought that the humble firing squad might just be the simplest, cheapest, and least error-prone execution method.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Apr 11, 2022 1:42:29 PM

This is a link to a piece posted by Pat Nolan from the Center for Criminal Justice Reform - American Conservative Union. It gives a perspective of the death penalty from the people whose job is to carry out the executions.

https://www.thestate.com/news/local/crime/article254201328.html?fbclid=IwAR1zpKOgZCH4rFrLtsrkOLrGHHyi-ClrmgEIc9sn5RJz75IuxQYZmrdbkHI

Posted by: beth curtis | Apr 11, 2022 4:02:32 PM

Re firing squad to execute

A Modest Proposal*
There’s much less cleanup then the axe, sword, or guillotine.
The downside is the loss of a heart ❤️ that possibly could be used for transplant.

Posted by: Kind Soul | Apr 14, 2022 1:12:28 PM

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