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Georgia Videotapes Prisoner’s Execution

Georgia Videotapes Prisoner’s Execution


Andrew DeYoung, a man convicted in the 1993 murders of his parents and 14-year-old sister, was executed by lethal injection late last week. His death was unusual because it was the first execution to be videotaped in almost 20 years, raising questions about privacy, the potential for sensationalism and transparency in the criminal justice system.

The backstory is somewhat complicated, and involves attorneys for another death-row inmate, Gregory Walker, who claim that lethal injections, as they are typically conducted, cause needless suffering.  Videotaping DeYoung’s execution, they argued, could “eliminate any dispute as to what transpires in the next lethal injection.”  Much of the concern revolves around eyewitness accounts of the June execution of Roy Blankenship, who apparently responded violently to the lethal injection.

Gregory’s lawyers said they wanted to make sure that no executions were botched in the future.  They also expressed concern about the use of pentobarbitol, a drug which was first used to execute Blankenship.  Pentobarbitol is typically used to euthanize animals and advocates for death row inmates are concerned that the drug causes intense, unnecessary pain.

Recording executions, however, raises the unavoidable question of what would happen if the videos were leaked, even though they are expressly not for public viewing.  ”I think it would be foolish for anybody who is authorizing or supervising the videotaping of executions to assume that it will always remain sealed and unseen,” Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, commented on his blog, according to the New York Times.  ”Somewhere, somehow, at some point, this will become publicly accessible.”

Executions were, in the past, highly public events.  The last public hanging in the United States happened as late as 1936, in front of a crowd of 20,000 people.  And even now, other countries (most recently, Iran) post videos of public executions online, often to intense criticism from human rights groups.  An Amnesty International official denounced the culture of public executions in Iran:

“Not only those executed, but all those who watch public executions, including, children, are brutalised and degraded by the experience. These public displays of killing perpetuate a culture of acceptance of violence and bloodlust, rather than a belief in justice.”

Others, like Berman, argue that videotaping and making execution videos public can provide a kind of transparency in a secretive criminal justice system, where human rights abuses (like unnecessary pain and suffering) go unscrutinized.

It’s interesting that none of these pieces bring up the issue of the executed prisoner’s consent.  Was DeYoung consulted about the decision to preserve the last minutes of his life?  If he wasn’t, should he have been?  Videos of deaths undoubtedly have intense power – think about Neda Agha-Soltan, the woman whose death became an online symbol of the 2009 Iran protests — and videotaping prisoners’ executions is no less fraught.  Ultimately, these videos are a double-edged sword: they could either bring the horrific fact that capital punishment is still alive and well in the United States into sharper relief, and perhaps galvanize support for ending the death penalty, or they could make execution seem routine.

What do you think?  Should inmates give permission for their deaths to be recorded?  And should these recordings be performed in the first place?

Related Stories:

Human Rights Groups Denounce Iran’s Rising Execution Rate

Obama Asks Texas to Spare Mexican Man the Death Penalty

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Photo from World Coalition Against the Death Penalty via flickr.

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1:56AM PST on Feb 22, 2012

A pity that discussions like this do not continue long term.I mean every day more and more people recieve the news that some sort of government will take their life. Vidio tape?Why not but with this film being owned by the family of the one being executed,to only be used at their permission.

1:07AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

@Shalvah L,
What's so secret about the death penalty in the US? Yes, we all know how backwards Iran and the other Muslim countries under sharia law are.

10:07PM PDT on Sep 26, 2011

Why not give them a choice? offer up for scientific research and experiments or the death penalty .... maybe it would save a dog or two, or a monkey or two and so on and so on ...

10:01AM PDT on Sep 24, 2011

I think publicizing these deaths might make people think twice about committing violent crimes. With the high volume of violent crime being committed in the US, what we are currently doing is not working. I think we need to increase use of the death penalty and publicize the executions.

6:36AM PDT on Sep 24, 2011

Don't think they should be recorded at all, but if they were it definitely should be up to the prisoner to give his consent.

4:27AM PDT on Sep 24, 2011

I'll say here as I have elsewhere, Canada does not have the death penalty anymore. We leave it to God and He seems to be doing His job fine. Clifford Olsen the serial killer of at least 11 kids is in hospital dying of cancer. Leave it all to God or stop using His name for any Government Agency.

3:50AM PDT on Sep 24, 2011

Only God has the right to take life

1:55PM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

The death penalty should be abolished.

6:57AM PDT on Sep 7, 2011

Iran still has publc executions, whereas in the US these are preformed SECRETLY.
Hmm... Why do you get to call yourself a Democracy?

7:08PM PDT on Sep 5, 2011

@Annemari L,
If you believe executions should be video taped and shown to the public, .. you're sick. At the same time the videos showing the executions are to be shown, maybe we should have video tapes made of the crime scenes showing what was done to the vidtims (expecially if it involved the brutal killing of people), and show that at the same time. Would lay you odds the public would demand MORE executions. Having been in law enforcement for 23 years, I can tell you seeing the closeups of brutal murder scenes would carry a lot more influence that any execution would.

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