The death penalty: the shocking truth


Library of Congress

Most states have retired the electric chair execution method.

Elizabeth Boysen, Staff Writer

From the dramatic firing squad executions in war movies to public hangings in westerns and electric chair killings of murderers in horror films, Most people have seen public executions being carried out in movies.

Those methods of execution in most states have been replaced with lethal injection. A lethal injection, according to the South Dakota Death Penalty Information Center, varies from state to state; in South Dakota, the injection consists of a lethal dose of anesthetic. In other states, a combination of two or three drugs could be used in the injection. Some of those drugs include pentobarbital, midazolam and fentanyl.

The most recent execution in South Dakota was that of Rodney Berget. Berget pleaded guilty to the murder of prison guard Ron “RJ” Johnson that took place in 2011 and was executed Oct. 29, 2018. Berget was the 19th person since 1877 to be executed in SD.

Some forms of lethal injections can make the process of dying excruciatingly painful for the inmate. In the case of Stephen McCoy of Texas, he had such violent physical reactions to the drugs (heaving chest, gasping, choking, back arching off the gurney), that one male witness fainted and knocked over another witness. Another death row inmate, Charles Walker of Illinois, suffered excruciating pain during his execution due to equipment failure and human error. The needle was placed towards Walker’s fingers instead of his arm, and there was a kink in the plastic tubing that delivered the chemicals, prolonging the execution.

While the botched execution rate is low, 7.12 percent of lethal injection executions go wrong, making them the most common form of botched executions, second being lethal gas with a fail rate of 5.4 percent, then hanging at 3.12 percent.

We can only imagine dying being unpleasant itself, but the times where executions are unnecessarily long or painful are simply inhumane. While the technology concerning lethal injection and methods of that sort are fairly new, incidents like the cases of McCoy and Walker should motivate the creators of these drugs to try to fix the formula of the drugs used. If inmates must be put on death row, we need to find a way to make their execution more humane.