They Worked on an Execution, and Suffered for It

Those who saw a prison execution tell NPR they do not support the death penalty
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2022 2:50 PM CST
They Witnessed Executions. Here's How It Changed Them
This photo shows the gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., on Oct. 9, 2014.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Four executions were carried out in the US this week. While the names of the condemned and some of the details of their final moments are known, there's an entire group of people that the same can't be said for: those who prepare for and carry out the executions. A combination of legal factors and a "culture of secrecy" tends to mean their identities stay under wraps, but NPR managed to speak with 26 people who currently or previously had a hand in more than 200 executions—as executioners, religious ministers, corrections superintendents, wardens, lawyers, and law clerks. Some volunteered their help; others had to participate as part of their job duties, but most "reported suffering serious mental and physical repercussions."

One standout finding: Of the 16 people NPR spoke with who actually witnessed someone die in the chamber, not one "expressed support for the death penalty afterward." The driver wasn't always concern for the condemned, NPR explains. In some cases, it was realizing the serious toll the experience takes on those who facilitate the execution; in others, it was knowing it's possible the person being executed could be innocent. They described a wide range of significant after-effects they suffered as a result of their experience: PTSD, excessive drinking, cracked fingers and heels, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, hair loss, and insomnia among them. And yet only one person said they received psychological support from the government afterward. (Read the full story here.)

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