Arizona to use Zyklon B to kill prisoners

History simply doesn’t back this up. Hanging was used for centuries. In response to the fact that some executions were botched, NY came up with the electric chair which promised instant and pain free death. Well, that didn’t always prove to be true either. Some states came up with the gas chamber, thinking the same thing. Well, that didn’t always prove to be true. Utah used the firing squad, and while I’m not aware of any botched executions, that proved to be too “bloodthirsty.”

Then in the 90s-early 2000s, every state adopted as its primary method of execution lethal injection. Although sometimes that was botched, it was really the gold standard. Many of us are put under for general anesthesia and don’t suffer pain.

But then the anti-DP crowd convinced drug companies to stop providing lethal injection drugs to states. Well, as much as you disagree with the DP, and as I’ve said to others in this thread, that is a very reasonable position, the states are constitutionally entitled to have a DP.

To go back to prior methods that they have already used in an attempt to be more humane (like AZ with the gas chamber) can hardly be described as “bloodthirsty” or Nazi-like or any of the other more outrageous claims that have been made.

Modnote: As the Op is not setup as a Debate and almost no comment initially by the Op means it isn’t actually up to GD standards. I would have closed this if it was a new thread.

As posters are enjoying the conversations that have started, instead I will just move this to IMHO.

Fair enough. I just assumed that anything death penalty related would be GD.

Only if it has a debate setup. The Pit or IMHO seem more appropriate when no debate. It didn’t look like a pit thread to me. I’m going to back out of the thread now.

There are lab uses (and even industrial uses) for HCN, most of which gets converted to KCN and NaCN which is what gets used (still dangerous, but now you’re handling a solid). I honestly don’t know where I’d source even a lab quantity from as most chemical supply companies reasonably don’t want to deal with it. (They’ll sell me plenty of KCN and NaCN though). It’s easy enough to convert back from the solids using sulfuric acid. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could buy a tanker car of the stuff for industrial use; I just don’t know how to source it. If I absolutely had to use it (and didn’t want just the cyanide ion) I’d generate it in situ and the safety reviews beforehand would not be fun. No way I’d bring in a bottle.

Frankly, I agree with those who are saying that calling it Zyklon B is being rather dishonest. Yes, it was the active agent in Zyklon B as an insecticide. Yes, the Nazis used hydrogen cyanide in the Holocaust. But the reporting went immediately to the most emotional name and reference possible to elicit a reaction that hydrogen cyanide or prussic acid wouldn’t.

I hate to be the guy asking for cites but do you have some evidence to support this? I’m not talking about posts from internet trolls. I’m saying do you have something from people who are involved in the execution process saying that making people suffer is one of the goals they’re aiming for?

Of course someone isn’t going to come out and say that. But the evidence that suffering is a feature, not a bug, is that there are more humane ways to carry it out that are not pursued. Why do you think that is? Do you think HCN gas it truly the most humane method Arizona could think of?

This question assumes it can be humane (kind, merciful, compassionate) to intentionally kill a person - a debate in and of itself.

That being said, @Little_Nemo, here’s what you are looking for, (2011 so you may have forgotten)


And I found another instance, from Tennessee. During a debate on reintroducing the electric chair as a means of execution in 2014, one state rep thanked a senator for introducing the bill, stating the electric chair is justified because the criminals “never afforded their victims a painless death or any sympathy or empathy in any way.” Not quite as direct as Max’s cite, but his meaning is pretty clear.

Rep. Floyd from Tennessee is out of office, but Rep. Drake still represents Floridians in a district roughly halfway between Tallahassee and Pensacola.


This, again, reflects a point from up-thread - that people who complain that the death penalty isnt’ painful enough are only thinking about it from a sheer physical standpoint. They do not take psychological factors into account.

Hydrogen cyanide is the active ingredient in Zyklon B, which is a brand name for hydrogen cyanide.

Dropping sodium cyanide into sulfuric acid produces hydrogen cyanide. So yes, it was in fact used in US executions. It just wasn’t provided in a ready-to-use form but rather generated via chemical reaction on the spot.

Nitrogen doesn’t poison the victims.

A sufficiently large quantity of nitrogen can result in an atmosphere with too little oxygen to sustain life.

The urge to breathe (and the feeling of needing to take breath/strangulation) is caused by a build up of carbon dioxide in the blood, not a lack of oxygen. Breathing a nitrogen atmosphere means 1) you’re not getting and oxygen and 2) since exhaling still results in carbon dioxide being expelled from your body you never feel like you’re being suffocated. You just keep breathing comfortably until you fall unconscious from too little oxygen, and shortly after that (assuming no rescue) you die.

And of course, no political action is taken for a single, uniform reason. There will be some people who want the MF to suffer, and some who are looking for something expedient, and some who no-doubt have other motives.

Still, “how to kill a large animal humanely” is a well researched and well understood topic. Abattoirs and vets and humane shelters and the fur industry attempt to do this all the time. Some of the humane methods aren’t used because companies don’t want to sell their products to executioners. (And this is often companies based in countries that don’t allow the death penalty, so they are not particularly moved by, “but it’s legal in the barbaric US.”) Some are, perhaps, avoided because they would be bad for the moral health of the executioner. (shooting the victim in the back of the skull.) But I honestly believe that many of the people who push for executions aren’t especially looking for “as painless as possible”, they are looking for “as unpleasant as the courts will let us get away with.”

Yes, I got that.

Thank you! That clarifies things for me. Obviously, chemistry isn’t my forté. :slight_smile:

But that formulation wasn’t used in US executions. If Arizona had said, “We’re going back to dropping sodium cyanide into sulfuric acid and water,” nobody would have said, “Oh, so you’re using Zyklon B!” Or would they? I guess Arizona doesn’t really care how people phrase it, so that’s probably a moot point.

Thanks for the helpful response!

That’s sort of what Arizona did say - they were going back to using the gas chamber. For a segment of the population (and not just the Jews) that results in a kneejerk leap to “Nazi gas”. Saying that, or Zyklon B, is a great way to get a lurid headline and plenty of clicks on-line which is what generates revenue for a lot of websites, including “newspapers” and media.

Even before WWII and the death camps there was some controversy about execution by gas chamber, WWII just intensified that

I can’t imagine why.

If there weren’t controversies over execution methods we wouldn’t have so many different types of execution.

I think one of the requirements for executions should be reliability. That is, the method should work as intended—every time. I suspect most readers are well aware that electrocutions can end with the person’s head on fire, for instance. Ixnay on that.

When they don’t work, it leaves us with a few possibilities.

A) The machine and/or plan are flawed. Go back to the drawing board and revise them and come back if/when you eliminate the flaws.

B) The executioners are incompetent. Maybe you need a genius to work the thing, which isn’t practical for most locales.

C) It’s intentionally painful, unnecessarily cruel, and so on.

I had heard that members of firing squads sometimes miss on purpose. This article is from 2015.

One such case appears to have happened in 1879, during Utah’s territorial days, when a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson’s heart and it took him 27 minutes to die, according to newspaper accounts.

Denno said errant shots to Wilkerson’s shoulder might have been intentional to make him suffer.

But they also note that a person being executed might move at the last moment. I think they reduced the leeway the shooters have.

The five executioners, certified police officers who remain anonymous, stood about 25 feet (7.6 meters) away and shot from behind a black curtain and through a brick wall cut with a gun port, or a special opening for the firearms.

Other methods aren’t foolproof, either. If you don’t calculate the drop right for a hanging, you may fail to break the neck and they suffocate. But also, if there’s too much force you can decapitate the person. Wikipedia actually has a picture of the post card they made showing Tom Ketchum in two pieces in the article below. The article says

The decapitation of Eva Dugan during a botched hanging in 1930 led the state of Arizona to switch to the gas chamber as its primary execution method, on the grounds that it was believed more humane.[13]

The article below claims about 3% of all executions from 1890-2010 were botched. Highest rate? Lethal injection, over 7 percent. Drug users don’t have cooperative veins—that shows up a lot. Lowest rate? Firing squad…at zero percent. (Drum roll please) lethal gas: second worst botched rate, 5.4%

A few quotes:

Jimmy Lee Gray died banging his head against a steel pole in the gas chamber while the reporters counted his moans (eleven, according to the Associated Press).”[3] Later it was revealed that the executioner, Barry Bruce, was drunk.[4]

Donald Eugene Harding. Death was not pronounced until 10 1/2 minutes after the cyanide tablets were dropped.[23] During the execution, Harding thrashed and struggled violently against the restraining straps. A television journalist who witnessed the execution, Cameron Harper, said that Harding’s spasms and jerks lasted 6 minutes and 37 seconds. “Obviously, this man was suffering. This was a violent death … an ugly event. We put animals to death more humanely.

I guess the flipside is that if 3% are botched, about 97% aren’t.

Besides revenge, there are those who believe that there is a deterrent value to capital punishment. That’s consistent with advocating an unpleasant method, believing that they are making the offenders suffer as an example to other would-be criminals. Support for the DP appears to be on the decline, though.

Gallup says 55% for/43% against capital punishment for convicted murderer in 2020.

If you’re one of the 3%, that’s not reassuring.

When Ronald Turpin was told that he would likely be the last prisoner hanged in Canada, he said “Some consolation.”

Right, humans aren’t ever perfect. Expecting 100% success is ok for a goal but realistically, there’s no way of guaranteeing that an execution won’t be botched. From that earlier cite:

  1. May 3, 1995. Missouri. Emmitt Foster. Lethal Injection. Seven minutes after the lethal chemicals began to flow into Foster’s arm, the execution was halted when the chemicals stopped circulating. With Foster gasping and convulsing, the blinds were drawn so the witnesses could not view the scene.

Turns out the restraints were too tight…