The lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison.

Oklahoma’s governor is demanding a review of a botched lethal injection on Tuesday night after witnesses reported the prisoner kicking and gasping when he was supposedly sedated prior to being executed. The White House has criticized the procedure, calling it inhumane, and Oklahoma has delayed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night. We discuss the history of executions with Austin Sarat, author of “Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty.”

Austin Sarat, professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College and author of "Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty"

  • Sean

    If death penalty opponents cared about painless executions it would be easy to come up with standards and procedures that worked extremely well. Instead they are doing everything they can, by obstruction, to make them more cruel to sensationalize the issue and sway the public.

  • sizzle8

    Thousands of people, everyday, undergo anesthesia for surgery. It is a safe, painless and proven method to make a person unconscious. Why this is not used before the administration of a lethal mixture, liquid or gas, is an utter mystery.

  • ES Trader

    I watched a Frontline documentary on euthanasia that described the use of helium was as an effective, painless method of suicide.

    Why are injections used if alternatives are known ?

  • Bob Fry

    Why not develop a modernized guillotine? Sure, fast, any pain or terror will be over in moments.

    While I think the death penalty is used too much for dubious cases (and thus innocents are convicted), for obvious guilt of deliberate heinous crimes it’s appropriate.

  • robertl

    What about the guillotine? It is a simple machine and easy to keep in good working order. The rate of botched executions must be extremely low.

  • Sean

    3% to 7% is an acceptable error rate considering that “failure” only results in a limited amount of pain. Less pain than most people will experience at some point in their lifetime – 680 Americans die every day from a heart attack, for example. Hard to feel sympathy for a botched execution that causes a heart attack 30 years prematurely.

  • Sean

    How can one reconcile a legal system that attempts to spare even a moment’s suffering from convicted criminals, yet will not allow euthanizing those in extreme pain for weeks, months or years?

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor