TOP 7 MODERN METHODS OF EXECUTION
The garrote is one of two methods of execution on this list no longer sanctioned by law in any country though training in its use is still carried out by the French Foreign Legion. The garrote is a device that strangles a person to death. It can also be used to break a person’s neck. The device was used in Spain until it was outlawed in 1978 with the abolition of the death penalty. It normally consisted of a seat in which the prisoner was restrained while the executioner tightened a metal band around his neck until he died. Some versions of the garrotte incorporated a metal bolt, which pressed into the spinal cord, breaking the neck. This spiked version is known as the Catalan garrote. The last execution by garrote was José Luis Cerveto in October 1977. Andorra was the last country in the world to outlaw its use, doing so in 1990.
Contrary to popular belief, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin did not invent the guillotine; he suggested a method of execution be devised that was quick and to be used on all people regardless of class. He sat on the committee that eventually designed the device, but it was actually Antoine Louis who came up with the design and then used it to build the first functioning guillotine. This is another execution method on this list that is no longer used anywhere in the world. The device itself is a large timber frame with a space at the bottom for the neck of the prisoner. At the top of the machine is a large angled blade. Once the prisoner is secured, the blade is dropped, severing the head and bringing about immediate death. Much speculation exists as to whether or not the person dies immediately, and one man went so far as to ask a prisoner to blink after his head was cut off if he could. The accounts tell us he did blink, but it is most likely if he did, it would have been a postmortem twitch. The last public guillotining in France was secretly filmed, and the scandalous behavior of the onlookers caused the government to ban public executions. It was the official method of execution in France until the death penalty was outlawed in 1981.
Hanging is carried out in a variety of ways: the short drop is when the prisoner is made to stand on an object which is then thrust away—leaving them to die by strangulation. This was a common method of hanging used by the Nazis and was the most common form used before the 1850s. Death is slow and painful. Suspension hanging (very popular in Iran) is when the gallows itself is movable. The prisoner stands on the ground with the noose around their neck and the gallows are then lifted into the air, taking the prisoner with them. The standard drop was in common use in English nations after the 1850s it involved tying the noose around the prisoner’s neck and then dropping them a short distance (usually four to six feet) to break the neck. This was the method used to execute the Nazi war criminals. The final method is the long drop, devised in 1872, in which the weight of a person was taken into account to determine the correct rope and drop to be used to ensure the breaking of the neck. The night before the execution, Pierrepoint would visit the condemned man in his cell with the warden. The prisoner was not told that Pierrepoint was his executioner. The purpose of the visit was to size the man up. Pierrepoint would use the information he had gained on the visit to decide what thickness of rope and length of the drop to use. He would soak the rope in the water and hang a sandbag with the weight of the prisoner at the end to prevent stretching during the execution. The next day Pierrepoint would put a cloth over the face of the prisoner and tighten the noose around his neck. He was very careful to ensure the trapdoor beneath the condemned would be opened as soon after the noose went on as possible and would often kick the level with his foot. The person would then drop through the trapdoor and their neck would break, causing death. There have been some instances where the long-drop method has caused decapitation—the most recent of which was the hanging of Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, in Iraq in 2007.
4. SINGLE-PERSON SHOOTING
Execution by shooting is the most common method of execution in the world, used in over seventy countries. While most of these countries use the firing squad, single-person shooting is still found. In Soviet Russia, a single bullet to the back of the head was the most frequently used method of execution for military and non-military alike. This is still the main method of execution in Communist China though the gunshot can be to either the neck or head. In the past, the Chinese government would ask the family of the executed person to pay the price of the bullet. In Taiwan, the prisoner is first injected with a strong anesthetic to render him senseless and then a bullet is fired into his heart.
5. THE ELECTRIC CHAIR
The electric chair was invented by Harold P. Brown who was employed by Thomas Edison for the sole purpose of investigating the uses of electricity for execution. Brown, a dentist used to working with people in chairs, used a chair design for his device. At the time there was still competition to see whether Edison’s direct current (DC) or Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC) would win the current war. Edison was in favor of using his opponent’s AC as he thought it would lead people to believe that AC was more dangerous than DC. In fact, it would make little difference which current was used as the voltage needed for execution. Edison was so keen to alienate Westinghouse that he tried to get people to refer to execution by electrocution as “Westinghouse” someone. The chair was first adopted in 1889 and the first execution took place in 1890 in New York. In execution by the electric chair, the prisoner is strapped to the chair with metal straps, and a wet sponge is placed on his head to aid conductivity. Electrodes are placed on the head and leg to create a closed circuit. Depending on the physical state of the prisoner, two currents of varying levels and duration are applied. This is generally 2000 volts for fifteen seconds for the first current to cause unconsciousness and to stop the heart. The second current is usually lowered to 8 amps. The current will normally cause severe damage to internal organs and the body can heat up to 138 degrees. While unconsciousness should occur within the first second or two, there have been occasions where it has taken much longer, leading people to speak out against this method of execution. The post-execution cleanup is an unpleasant task as the skin can melt to the electrodes and the person often loses control over bodily functions. The skin is also often burnt.
In some nations that adhere to Islamic Sharia law, beheadings are still a commonly used method of execution. The most frequently seen cases involve beheading by a curved, single-edged sword. While many nations allow beheading by law, Saudi Arabia uses it most often. The sentence is normally carried out on a Friday night in public outside the main mosque of the city after prayers. The penalty can be dealt with for rape, murder, drug-related crimes, and apostasy (rejection of religious beliefs).
7. GAS CHAMBER
The gas chamber has been used for executions for a considerable number of years. It has gained the most notoriety from its use in the German prison camps during World War II where it was used to exterminate millions of people in one of the worst cases of genocide in the twentieth century. All of the five U.S. states that still use the gas chamber allow the prisoner to choose death by lethal injection instead. The last death by gas chamber in the U.S. was in 1999 when German Walter LaGrand was executed in Arizona. There are unconfirmed reports North Korea is using the gas chamber as a method of execution and to test poisonous gases on prisoners. Prior to the execution, the executioner will enter the chamber and place potassium cyanide (KCN) pellets into a small compartment beneath the execution chair. The prisoner is then brought in and secured to the chair. The chamber is sealed and the executioner pours a quantity of concentrated sulphuric acid (H2SO4) through a tube that leads to a holding compartment in the chair. The curtains are drawn back for witnesses to see the execution and the prisoner is asked to make his last statement. After the last statement, a level is thrown by the executioner, and the acid mixes with the cyanide pellets generating lethal hydrogen cyanide (HCN) gas. The prisoners will generally have been told to take deep breaths in order to speed up unconsciousness, but in most cases, they hold their breath. Death from hydrogen cyanide is painful and unpleasant. After the prisoner is dead, the chamber is purged of gas and neutralized with anhydrous ammonia (NH3). Both the ammonia and the acid that must be removed from the chamber are highly dangerous. Guards with oxygen masks then enter the chamber and remove the body so it can be examined by a doctor.