To Kill and Be Killed

How fair is the death penalty?
To Kill and Be Killed (text); coffin with scales of justice resting on top (image)
To Kill and Be Killed (text); coffin with scales of justice resting on top (image)

Trigger Warning/Content Warning: Discussions of death and execution methods.

For someone accused of a heinous act who has been sentenced to the death penalty, there were (for the most part) two options: Death by “Old Sparky,” the three-legged electric chair, or by a three-step injection process that makes it feel as if your veins have been injected with pure fire.

The use of capital punishment (the legal act of punishing someone with death) in America has been around since the 1600s, with the first documented case being in 1608 in Jamestown, Virginia. The victim was Captain George Kendall, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

“Capital” punishment is usually applied to those who have committed “capital” offenses, hence the name. These crimes, or offenses, include, according to Department of, “…murder, treason, genocide, or the killing or kidnapping of a Congressman, the President, or a Supreme Court justice.”

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Another thing about the death penalty: Doctors and medical professionals are not involved. That’s right, your lethal injection is about to be administered by an amateur. The main reasons being, according to the DPIC:

One, the concept is the exact opposite of a doctor’s job description. And two, doctors and medical professionals usually provide comfort for their patients. The person being executed is far from deserving any emotional support if they are, in fact, guilty of their crime.

The most common way to be executed is by lethal injection. It is believed that the process is quick and easy, as it would just put the offender to sleep, and they never wake up again.

The actual process is a far more gruesome thing, lasting usually five minutes, death occurring about two minutes after the third and final injection (according to Botched lethal injections, which are faulty injections, cause the offender far more pain and agony overall, and can take about two hours or more to be fatal. This usually occurs due to the ignorance of the executioner.

How do lethal injections work? First up on the list is a sedative, or an anesthetic. The second drug paralyzes the person, which, according to John Oliver, a social commentary talk show host, makes them feel as if they are suffocating. The drug prevents muscle movement, making functions like breathing unachievable.

The second drug, also according to Oliver, is mainly for the benefit of the onlookers. This is applied so they do not have to worry about seeing a flailing body the moment the third drug is applied. This third drug stops the heart, sending the person into cardiac arrest, along with feeling as if they were burning from the inside. Overall, it is a gruesome seven minutes.

With all this being said, lethal injections are still considered to be the most “humane” way to kill someone. I believe there is no “humane” way to kill someone, regardless of their crime. Death is the easier way out, in my opinion. The offender should be forced to work hard labor instead.

Lethal injection is, however, one of the less brutal ways for someone to have died. Also, according to the DPIC, other punishments included (executions vary by state, some of these are now considered “out of fashion” and are not utilized as a method to execute someone):

– Electrocution, which was the result of wanting a more “humane” way to kill someone than hanging, which was the most popular way to execute someone up until the 1890s. Electrocution is one of the more brutal ways to be executed, with the offender ending up fried and usually having severely dislocated multiple limbs and other parts, to say the least, or even catching on fire.

– Firing squads were used as well. In some cases, a prisoner could choose this method of execution. The shooters, standing twenty feet away from the offender (who is bound with leather straps and has a black hood over their head. A white circle is placed over their heart as a marker.) The shooters may choose to shoot the prisoner in the heart, killing them relatively quickly, or they can let the prisoner bleed to death slowly.

– One of the most brutal ways to be executed, in my opinion, would be execution by gas chamber. Cyanide gas was used for the first execution in 1924, in Nevada. In 2015, Oklahoma deemed death by cyanide gas unconstitutional (due to its horrifying results on a person) and eventually introduced the use of nitrogen gas.

Not only does life in prison seem more logical, as opposed to the horrific methods above, but it is also the least expensive option. According to the DPIC, “The death penalty is far more expensive than a system utilizing life-without-parole sentences as an alternative punishment. Some of the reasons for the high cost of the death penalty are the longer trials and appeals required when a person’s life is on the line, the need for more lawyers and experts on both sides of the case, and the relative rarity of executions.”

This process is incredibly expensive, with costs varying depending on the location. The reason for the large expense is (according to the DPIC):

– Legal costs: The majority of offenders can’t afford their own attorney, so they have to be assigned one by the state, who pays for the attorney.

– Pre-Trial costs: The process is a long one and much different from “non-capital” cases. Experts in areas such as forensics, mental health, among others, along with extra security for the trial.

– Jury selection: The select jury is questioned on their views about the death penalty and overall have to stay four times as much as the jury for non-capital cases, so compensation is required.

– Trial: These capital trials last about four times as much as non-capital trials. Trial costs along with compensation for the people involved (jury, court personnel) are required.

– Incarceration (Isolation): An offender on death row is kept at a special facility in solitary confinement, or isolation. These facilities have more security than usual, which costs more.

– Appeals: Prisoners are allowed a series of appeals, and “the costs are borne at the taxpayer’s expense.” Appeals are a process where cases are reviewed by those at a higher level of authority, with the end goal usually being to change the official decision as to the offender’s sentence. In some cases, the process of appeal has saved inmates by proving innocence, sometimes dangerously close to their execution.

The death of a criminal may be enough to console the relatives or loved ones of the victim; however, it seems like it would be more comforting to know the criminal is truly suffering for their crime for the rest of their life, not for less than three hours.

The decision to execute a person is no small thing. To make that decision is to say, “This person does not deserve to be alive”; what is interesting is the way people bestow that power upon themselves to decide who lives and dies. Yes, there are horrible people who have done horrible things who have been executed, but there are also innocent people as well, like George Stinney, the fourteen-year-old boy wrongfully executed over seventy years ago.

Death of a prisoner is a way to prevent further harm from happening, but in some cases, it does more harm than good and proves the amount of injustice within the system. I think horrible people should be made an example of, not terminated for people to forget about, and money to be wasted on.

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