Can Execution Be a Spectator Sport? ; on Monday, Timothy McVeigh Is Due to Die by Lethal Injection - and More Than 300 People Are Expected to Watch. but How Does It Actually Feel to Spectate at an Execution? Julia Stuart Has Tried It
Stuart, Julia, The Independent (London, England)
A death rattle is not something you forget easily. Three years ago, I was present when Robert Carter was executed by lethal injection. The sound he made still remains with me. Strapped down to a table, his arms outstretched as if nailed to a horizontal crucifix, he filled the death chamber with a noise similar to a horse braying as the air in his lungs was forced out between his plump lips. It reminded me of the sound my then boyfriend sometimes made in his sleep.
As is normally the case with executions in the United States, Robert Carter's death was watched by a small gathering. He had invited two friends, two relatives and his lawyer. There were also four journalists - including me - and a handful of prison officials. No relation of Carter's victim came to watch.
Such reluctance will not be shown at the execution of Timothy McVeigh, which is scheduled for Monday and will be witnessed by more people than any execution in America since jailyard hangings ended in the 1950s.
McVeigh murdered 168 people and injured almost 700 others when he blew up the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995. It was the worst act of peacetime violence on American soil. Barring a last-minute reprieve, his execution by lethal injection at Indiana's Terre Haute penitentiary will be the first carried out under federal law since 1963. Almost 300 survivors and relatives of those who died have applied to watch the execution on closed-circuit television at Oklahoma City's federal transfer centre for prisoners.
Those with the best view will be at Terre Haute itself, where four witness rooms overlook the newly built death chamber. McVeigh, 33, will be allowed two lawyers, three friends or family members and a spiritual adviser. One of his "friends" will be the novelist and commentator Gore Vidal, an opponent of the death penalty. Another room will be allocated to the 10 media witnesses who will act as a press pool for the estimated 2,000 reporters who are expected to be outside. The third group will be made up of 10 survivors and victims' relatives. There will also be a group of government officials.
The US's appetite for the death penalty is unquenchable. According to figures collated by Amnesty International, last year the US put 85 prisoners to death, 10 more than the official figure for Iran.
Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated after a four- year moratorium, the US has carried out 542 lethal injections, 149 electrocutions, 11 poisonings in gas chambers, three hangings and two deaths by firing squad. There are some 3,700 people currently on Death Row.
The pace of executions in the US has been increasing steadily. And the country's lust for retribution looks unlikely to wane under the new presidency. During George Bush's governorship of Texas, 152 executions took place.
Whether the witnesses of McVeigh's showcase execution will obtain any solace from it remains to be seen. Those seeking revenge may well feel cheated by what should be a clinical and orderly death, not a luxury their relatives enjoyed.
Certainly, on the days leading up to Robert Carter's execution, I feared I would feel nothing, and worried whether I would have to face up to a hitherto unrecognised callousness. I had been told on several occasions that the procedure would be much like watching an animal being put down, or someone falling asleep. How traumatic would that be? Not very, I presumed.
When I arrived at the prison in Huntsville, Texas, I was shown into the office of Larry Fitzgerald, the head of public information for the Texas department of criminal justice, where I joined the other journalists. The mood was light and jovial as they celebrated the birthday of David Nunnelee, a prison press officer. I declined a slice of birthday cake. I didn't feel like celebrating.
The phone rang for Fitzgerald. …
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Publication information: Article title: Can Execution Be a Spectator Sport? ; on Monday, Timothy McVeigh Is Due to Die by Lethal Injection - and More Than 300 People Are Expected to Watch. but How Does It Actually Feel to Spectate at an Execution? Julia Stuart Has Tried It. Contributors: Stuart, Julia - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 8, 2001. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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