Capital Punishment: a Survey of Modern Methods

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Capital Punishment: A Survey of Modern Methods

Just imagine…the year is 1853. The Borden family just made the long drive into town, sitting atop a hay bail, in the bed of their covered wagon. There are popcorn and shaved ice venders in the town square. Horses line the streets, and every hitch is full. Little Joey Borden asks his father if there is a celebration going on. His father replies, “Nope, there’s gonna be a hangin.”

Early humans used some rather gruesome methods of execution when judged by today’s standards. USA Today reported that “at one time, pain was part of the purpose of moral execution.” Many colonial executions utilized hanging, which often ended with unintentional beheading. Beheading, via guillotine, was a spectator favorite. Drowning, burning at the stake, and breaking at the wheel were also popular methods for spectator executions. Breaking at the wheel is a process where the condemned is tied to a wheel, his limbs broken; then his shattered limbs are wrapped around the wheel spokes. (Turley, 2008) America has moved away from these visually disturbing kinds of executions to seemingly less barbaric methods.

In colonial times, executions by hanging were a public event that often included drunken spectators. By 1853, hanging was the preferred method of execution in all of the states and territories in the United States. (Turley, 2008) According to the Death Penalty Information Center, hanging is still offered to inmates as a choice for method of execution. Hanging is a technical process. The condemned is weighed the day before the execution. Next, a trial hanging is done using a sandbag instead of the actual person. This “trial run” is done to help determine the length of drop needed to break the inmate’s neck cleanly. If the rope used to hang the inmate is too long, the inmate could be decapitated. If the rope is too short, the inmate may suffocate slowly. (DPIC, 2008) The rope is stretched, the knot lubricated with...
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