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Suppose so

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.

They’re also honest enough not to do it with the prisoner facing the wall and the bullet in the back of the head. Unlike some….

11 thoughts on “Suppose so”

  1. It all sounds a bit like the Gary Gilmore case.
    I think the question is not so much the how, but who ?
    Prison guards ? National guardsmen ? Rednecks who pull up outside the prison in their pickups?

  2. Otto – that’s easy, local men of good character who volunteer.

    Or surprise the executee with a lion squad.

  3. You could also have an updated version of the “Automated Firing Squad” which requires no-one to actually fire the gun, simply that the prisoner is restrained within a chair at the cross hairs of one-or-more rifles whose triggers are pulled via switch. This also allows there to be a real switch and a fake one so that even the officials undertaking the execution don’t know who pulled the fatal switch.

    A version of this approach was used in the 1913 execution of Andriza Mircovich.

    Nevada State Prison had been the state-designated facility for hangings since 1903. At the urging of the Mormon population, the Nevada Legislature passed a statute in 1910 that became effective in January 1911, which allowed condemned prisoners to choose between execution by shooting or hanging. Only Mircovich and one other inmate selected shooting. However, the other prisoner’s sentence was commuted. Warden Cowing tried to talk Mircovich out of his decision. Mircovich did not want to be hanged and insisted on being shot, claiming it would be quicker.

    Prison Warden George W. Cowing was faced with a predicament in meeting the scheduled execution date of August 29, 1912, because he was unable to find five marksmen willing to participate in a firing squad.

    The state then ordered a rack of rifles that was to be set up on a frame by an Eastern ordnance foundry. The 1000-pound (450 kg) execution machine, which was called the “shooting gallery of steel”, included three Savage Model 1899 .30-30 caliber rifles with Maxim silencers. When the device arrived at the prison, Cowing no longer wanted to have any part of the execution and resigned. Denver S. Dickerson, a former Nevada governor and prison reformer, was appointed as the new warden. On May 13, 1913, Prison Chaplain Lloyd B. Thomas of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Carson City, Nevada, made an unsuccessful appeal for commutation on Mircovich’s behalf with the Board of Pardons.

    The “shooting machine” was designed to be loaded with two lethal rounds and a blank cartridge, each connected to a coiled spring mechanism. The device could be fired by cutting three strings, only one of which would fire the rifles. This design would prevent the three randomly selected prison guards from knowing who would be responsible for triggering the lethal shot.

    On the morning of May 14, the three guards entered the firing area and then the 12 invited witnesses were admitted to a designated enclosed space in the yard. Mircovich refused an offer for a blindfold from Warden Dickerson and shook his hand, stating: “I much obligated to you. You be good man to me.” Mircovich was then strapped to a chair bolted onto a platform in front of the machine. The prison doctor, Donald T. McLean, placed a heart-shaped target on Mircovich’s chest. The aim on the loaded rifles were sighted on the defendant’s heart, and checked by each guard. Mircovich cursed the name of Judge Averill and said “I die like a soldier” before he was shot to death.

    The rifles from the machine that shot Mircovich now reside at Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

    Doctor McLean declared that the death was instantaneous. An autopsy found the two soft-nosed ball cartridges within 2/3 inch (17mm) of each other in Mircovich’s heart. Reverend Thomas conducted an informal service at the prison cemetery that afternoon. Mircovich’s body was buried in a pine coffin on the same day.

    Execution of Andriza Mircovich (1913)

  4. @Otto It’s not the 1850s anymore. They have people tasked with the executions, just as with the lethal injections, Ol’ Sparky, etc.

    To be honest, if I had to go, firing squad is what I’d choose. I’d want it quick, and I wouldn’t want to be under anesthesia. Can’t explain why, but I’d want to at least have the control of seeing what’s coming.

  5. I don’t know why they don’t try inert gas asphyxiation. It would also be cheap, as well as painless and wouldn’t spread blood all over the place..

    You don’t even need the inert gas. All you need is a small hypobaric chamber, like elite athletes and mountaineers use for training, just turn it up to decrease the oxygen concentration enough to create sufficient hypoxia to kill. The downside is the lower pressure can possibly cause ear discomfort and possibly decompression sickness, which would be painful.

    Alternatively, pump in a bunch of nitrogen to decrease the oxygen concentration, or have the victim breathe pure nitrogen from a facemask. Very rapid, painless unconsciousness and rapid death. No pain or sense of suffocation like you would get with CO2 or carbon-monoxide.

  6. Paul from Canada: do you (well, does the victim) get a sense of suffocation from carbon monoxide? I thought it was pretty-much undetectable – hence all the warnings.

  7. Paul from Canada: do you (well, does the victim) get a sense of suffocation from carbon monoxide? I thought it was pretty-much undetectable – hence all the warnings.

    I thought that this was mostly because people died in their sleep? Those struggling with CO poisoning when they were awake report dreadful headaches.

    Carbon monoxide poisoning

    No idea what would happen in an enclosed chamber where you suddenly and rapidly increased the CO concentration. Probably end up gasping for breath before passing out. Not instantaneous and not an easy death, even for murderers and rapists. The long drop hanging method as maintained by UK Home Office up until abolition being preferable.

  8. dcardno,

    What John Galt said. CO gives very painfull headaches, and CO2 causes a feeling of suffocation because both are toxic. Inert gasses like nitrogen, helium etc, don’t cause any reaction at all, you breathe normally, don’t feel any symptoms, but don’t get any O2, so you just pass out and then die of hypoxia.

    That said, if the concentration of CO2 (or almost anything else, like natural gas or sewer gas, which also contains a lot of CO2), is high enough, you can pass out almost instantly, which is why H&S requires gas detectors and very strict protocols when going in confined spaces like old mines and sewers and so on.

    There are plenty of examples of workers going into gas filled places, passing out instantly, and both they are the recuer rushing in to save them die before a properly eqipped rescuer can get to them.

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