Executing a Criminal is Really Easy Now… So Why Do We Make it so Difficult?

29 Mar

By Mike McGee

It’s actually physically easy for a state or nation to conduct a judicial execution in 2017. I’m going to show you how. 2,500 years of unexamined culture and history is what makes executions so difficult and filled with drama around the United States and around the world.

Here’s the deal. Carry out executions in private and at an unspecified time, and use commonly available drugs which tend to induce peace before death.

Executions as we do them now are a frightful and largely unconscious relic of our worldwide shared barbaric past. This actual barbarism and blood-lust at the time of death is a normal relic of our history, really since the beginnings of recorded jurisprudence. And the drama surrounding each execution, from trial verdict until last appeal denied, is to a high degree a reaction to the often unconscious disgust with the current methods of execution. Yet each execution becomes a horror movie, a gore-fest, a slash/snuff drama. The macabre ending in a highly cinematic public snuff scene must go.

With modern technology and modern ideas on peaceful passing, there are ways to create a new cultural construct around executions which will make things better. Of course those who simply oppose the “death penalty,” usually for moral and ethical reasons, will still be opposed. God bless you folks.

I’ll present a play within a play, a story which may seem really familiar and at the same time utterly unfamiliar. The story will illustrate how we should conduct executions from this time forward.


Scene: death house below ground level. Read skeptically. This is an ideal new scenario. Can you figure out which elements are not in conformity with existing methods?

Once a prisoner’s appeals and stays have run out he should be taken from his cell on death row to a comfortable and peaceful room, low lighting and soft music, next to the execution chamber.

I call it an “imminent room.” The only place I’ve heard this term is on “Bones. S01 E07 – The Man on Death Row. Here’s the conversation in the script: “AMY: (answering phone) Amy Morton. Thanks. (to everyone) They’ve moved Howard Epps to the imminent room. ANGELA: What’s that? BOOTH: It’s where he has his last meal and says goodbye to his family.”

The prisoner can stay in this imminent room with his family and friends, food and drink, spiritual advisors, (plus burly guards and two Referees), for an hour or more. The prisoner is then chained before the door is opened for the visitors to leave.

The prisoner may then be returned to his cell for a few hours, or even more, before he is called into the execution chamber, or he may be taken there immediately. (The time for the execution is known only to the execution team and the Referees.)

When it is time, the burly guards escort the prisoner into the execution chamber. This room is somewhat similar to the last room. Comfortable and pleasant surroundings, low lighting and soft music: burly guards and chains being the only reminder of what’s next. The only other people in the death chamber are the two Referees and the two or three people on the prison’s execution team. There’s a hard phone for any last-minute reprieves. The inmate’s photo and fingerprints are examined by the Referees, who also know him because they sat with him in the imminent room. The Referees must be a hundred per cent satisfied that the correct person is in the room, or they must stop the process.

In a pleasant spot in the execution room is a comfortable Lazy Boy reclining chair. The prisoner is invited to be seated and if he doesn’t, he’s strapped in with just enough webbing or leather to keep him seated. Everyone talks softly and with reverence for the dying.

Once the inmate is fully identified and properly seated he receives an IM injection in the arm, of enough Morphine Sulfate to make him unconscious, which may be a higher amount if he’s tolerant due to past addiction.

It may take fifteen minutes to an hour for the inmate to nod off and become unconscious. Once unconsciousness is verified, the inmate is ready for the final dosage, which will be administered by injecting a bolus of morphine directly into a major vein such as at the inside of the elbow. If the inmate’s history shows opioid addiction in his past, the injection may need to be up to 1000 mg. If not, 400 or so mg should be sufficient. The whole amount should be pushed quickly.

The inmate dies completely at peace, with no drama or distractions. It may take one or two hours more before the inmate can be pronounced dead. That’s okay. There’s no rush, since the whole process is low-key and unhurried, with reverence for the dying and the dead.

If the culture or laws require beheading or other similar means, simply follow the above scenario. Once the inmate is unconscious, off with his head. In private and with respect, though.

Once the individual is pronounced dead, the body is loaded into a body bag and taken to a cold room that has sliding shelves like a morgue, accompanied by the Referees. An embalming tech is present and embalms the body immediately, providing assurance of death as well as preventing deterioration until the body is released.

Then the door to the morgue shelf holding the body is locked, and each person present signs off on an evidence tag, and everyone from the outside goes home. The body stays locked in this morgue for at least 24 hours before being released to a funeral home or to family, on an unpredictable schedule.


I am not aware of any place in the world where a state-sponsored execution is carried out today in private, with respect for the dying, and without drama, in the manner I have described. In most places, including in the United States, the inmate is disrespected and roughed up from the start of the process to the finish. Groups of people are invited to the death house to gawk at the execution. The inmate is placed in an awkward position on a cross-shaped table or a wood chair, and strapped down with force. “Last words” is a dramatic farce. In other countries the inmate stands bound to a post before a firing squad in a public area, or has his head severed in a public display.

As things are now, the press and crowds of protesters arrive at the time publicly stated for the execution. There is a lot of noise and drama outside the prison, or from the crowd gathered for a public execution. The idea is that an execution is a public expiation of all our sins, and the worse the prisoner is treated and humiliated, the better. The drama often rivals an action movie.

This human cultural drama has existed since the beginning of recorded history, so there is absolutely no reason to say that those who carry out or participate in these rituals are wrong or are bad. They are doing what has always been done. I respect the men and women who manage the execution process as it is.

The thing is, the process needs to change. With the new method a lot of people are going to be disappointed with the lack of drama and expiation. These people (including you and I, my friend) will lose the almost entirely unconscious barbaric blood-lust that’s driven mankind’s punishments from the beginning of history.

Who are the “Referees” whom I referenced in the scenario? One of the actual tangible and practical benefits of a public execution is that everyone sees with their own eyes that the right person is being executed, and sees that the person executed is actually dead before leaving the public viewing. In a private non-public execution, we will legitimately worry that the executioners may be just going through the motions, or else another body is inserted into the process while the one intended to be executed escapes. This type of thing must never ever be allowed to happen during an execution.

The two Referees at an execution will be the same type of people who serve in NFL games and all other sports. These Referees really do need to be NFL-tough in order to do their jobs. They could be retired law enforcement officers or others who’ve had years of street-level experience in crime. They will be the “witnesses” to the execution being carried out properly.

As with any national sports referee, these men and women need to be selected by a neutral authority and flown in from far away, with no conflicts of interest. In small countries they might come from another country. They need to have plenary power over much of what happens at the execution, and they must enforce hard rules of identification of the inmate and declaration of death. They should also assure that the process is carried out with a degree of calm and reverence.

Morphine Sulfate is an almost universally available controlled substance. It will be quite difficult for death penalty opponents to block the entire supply of morphine away from death houses. Morphine also has the advantage of being a peaceful soothing drug which induces profound unconsciousness prior to death.

In the unlikely event the death house is unable to get morphine, there are a lot of things they can get at a hardware store which will induce death. Or they can use a helium hood. A plastic bag is put over the head of the inmate and two tubes are inserted. The tubes are attached to helium containers which can be bought at party stores or at Wal-Mart. Open the valves and allow the helium to displace the oxygen, then tie off the bag. Death will occur usually within an hour or so, without the regaining of consciousness. The death house people need to use their imagination. There are many ways to assure death than almost expired Midazolam.

Because of problems securing lethal injection drugs, Ohio has considered adding nitrogen gas as a new execution method (The Columbus Dispatch, Sep 6, 2016). Pumped into an air-tight chamber or into a hood, it produces asphyxiation by a lack of oxygen in the blood. It has not yet been used for executions, although Oklahoma has adopted it as a backup method. The sponsor of the Oklahoma law called it “foolproof.” It works much the same way as helium, although helium is easier to obtain.

Let’s make this happen.

From www.mcgeepost.com Copyright © 2017 by Michael H. McGee. All commercial rights reserved. Non-commercial or news and commentary site re-use or re-posting is encouraged. Please feel free to share all or part, hopefully with attribution.

Lagniappe: These random footnotes are added as an afterthought, and are not considered to be a part of the blog entry.

We need to establish a special Death Penalty Court in each state, where only experienced attorneys could sit first chair on either side. This Court should have access to every investigative and forensic tool, to be available to both sides. This Court alone will reduce by ninety per cent the number of erroneous verdicts.

We need to limit the number of appeals available to inmates given the death penalty. The trial court verdict may be appealed to the appellate courts one time, after which a petition to the Supreme Court is the only next step. Collateral actions may by statute be limited to situations where only clear and convincing evidence will permit the court to agree to a review. Defense attorneys who manufacture evidence will be prosecuted.


There are many kinds of capital punishment that are carried out every day in the United States, and more or less frequently in other countries. The total number executed without trial or appeal in the United States alone is far, far greater than the number of judicial executions. Maybe the anti-capital punishment groups should focus on these executions along with what they do now.

We’re talking about the killing of people for vengeance or retaliation of all kinds, which can occur at all levels of culture and society. There’s also the summary executions of gang members who don’t toe the line; the execution of “snitches.”

Look at the snuffing out of those who are prepared to testify against a powerful individual in court; drug dealers and couriers who try to run off with the goods; street peddlers who fail to repay their dealers for the cost of the product; individuals who trash talk or mess with “my girl.” The list can go on and on. Think up your own examples.

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