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Lethal injections and the tragedy of America's execution addiction

Lethal injections and the tragedy of America's execution addiction

William David Watkin, Brunel University London

It began in Utah back in 1977. On January 17 of that year, Gary Gilmore became the first man to be executed in the US for more than a decade, ending a national moratorium on the death penalty. Gilmore, guilty of murdering two men during a 24-hour spree, insisted on being executed and chose to die by firing squad.

It is possible that if this mentally disturbed, indeed suicidal man, had not elected to be shot that day, the history of the death penalty would have been completely different and the lethal injection never invented.

As it was, Gilmore’s intransigence over the issue of his destruction meant that the death penalty was acceptable once more and states were faced with a series of tough choices. Should they kill or not? If so, what’s the best way of going about it? And how were the states that eventually reinstated capital punishment going to answer to legal challe…