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My Turn: Making the death penalty even more barbaric

Last modified: 6/4/2014 12:44:38 AM
The death penalty has fallen on hard times. The international community has largely rejected and abolished its use. No other Western democracy besides the United States resorts to the death penalty, and it is widely considered barbaric in Europe. Only a handful of outlier nations cling to this nasty old practice. Not great when you are in the company of Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and North Korea.

Making things even worse, executions of late have not gone smoothly. I thought we were past the days of flames shooting out of people’s heads. However, we just had the spectacle of the state of Oklahoma botching the lethal injection execution of Clayton Lockett.

Lockett was alive quite a while after the time the state had expected he would be dead. Witnesses reported that he twitched and writhed in pain. He tried to lift himself off the gurney to which he was strapped. This went on until Oklahoma state officials drew the shades so observers could not see more. Later the state officials called off Lockett’s execution, but it turned out he was already dead from heart failure.

Since capital punishment was restored in the United States in 1976, the Death Penalty Information Center has reported 44 botched executions. About 75 percent of these involved lethal injection, the form of execution now touted as humane.

Lethal injection has become more problematic partly because states have not been able to procure the drugs used in lethal injection. Some states like Indiana appear to be turning to untested drug combinations. A U.K.-based human rights group, Reprieve, has successfully lobbied pharmaceutical companies to bar export of drugs used in executions to the United States. There is a massive shortage of these drugs.

So what is a state to do when it can’t use more modern, sanitized, scientific forms of execution? It would appear states are moving backward, reviving old ways. For example, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has just signed a bill that requires the state to bring back the electric chair if lethal injection is not available. In Wyoming, the Legislature is considering a bill to bring back firing squads.

Since New Hampshire has not yet eliminated the death penalty, it too could face the dilemma of how to kill somebody if lethal injection drugs are not available. In the case of New Hampshire, our last execution was carried out in 1939. It was a hanging.

Since 1734, New Hampshire has executed 24 people. Hanging is the method of execution historically used by the state although lethal injection is now the primary legal form of execution. Hanging can still be used if lethal injection is determined to be impractical.

The late comedian George Carlin thought about this dilemma. He had a number of suggestions to offer. I think Carlin would have encouraged the state to think outside the box.

Carlin said enough with soft American executions. He suggested bringing back crucifixion, a form of capital punishment he thought both Christians and Jews could relate to. Except Carlin favored naked, upside-down crucifixions preferably held at halftime on Monday Night Football. He knew people would be tuning in who didn’t care about football.

Carlin thought if you liven up executions and learn how to market them, you might be able to raise enough money to balance the budget. He had a Hunger Games vision long before the Hunger Games became known.

He favored bringing back beheadings: “Beheadings on TV, slow motion, instant replay. And maybe you could let the heads roll down a little hill. And fall into one of five numbered holes. Let the people at home gamble on which hole the head is going to fall into. And you do it in a stadium so the mob can gamble on it too. Raise a little more money.”

And he says, “When’s the last time we burned someone at the stake? It’s been too long!” Put it on TV on Sunday mornings. Nothing like satisfying bloodlust with a little human bonfire.

Also, Carlin reminds us, don’t forget about boiling people in oil: “Boy those were the days, weren’t they? You get the oil going real good, you know, a nice high roiling boil. And then slowly, at the end of the rope, you lower the perpetrator head first into the boiling oil.”

Carlin says maybe instead of boiling all these guys, you could french fry a couple: “French fried felons. Dip a guy in egg batter, just for a goof, you know. Kind of a tempura thing.”

With Carlin for inspiration, the possibilities are limitless. How about a giant shark tank of great whites on the State House lawn? Bye-bye perpetrators. We could replace Jaws with the televised real deal, and time it with the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

And for technology buffs, we have to work in a drone. Let a convict facing the death penalty loose in a major wilderness area. Give him a few days head start. Then give a drone one shot at blowing him away. Televise it, and we can bet on results.

Those with a more religious orientation might recall stonings. I remember when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, stoning became official state policy for many crimes, including adultery. Admittedly, we might be a little rusty with stonings, but no one can deny we have many great pitching arms here in the U.S.

New Hampshire, I submit there are possibilities. We replay the same old debates about taxes and casinos. Here is a way we can move forward by moving backward.

(Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is an administrative law judge. His column reflects his own view and not that of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)


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