What's the point of death by electrocution?

I have never understood why one of our capital punishments is death by electrocution.

First of all, it seems like a very random way to kill someone, as if they were having a brainstorming session on “strange execution methods” and a guy said, “why don’t we run an electric current through them!”

Secondly, it seems, from what I have read about it, to be a painful, relatively slow way to die. People cook from the inside, their heads burst into flames, their eyeballs pop out, etc etc. Sounds like a very barbaric execution.

Thirdly, it seems needlessly complicated and convoluted. A large amount of preparation needs to go into it, there’s something stagey about all the steps followed through in strapping the prisoner into the chair, and even then accidents apparently happen causing horrific death scenes.

This is just my opinion, but the electric chair strikes me as the kind of thing that a sick, demented science fiction writer would come up with. I think it’s far from a humane method of execution. Wouldn’t a bullet in the head be a million times cheaper, faster, easier and more painless?

Why the hell do we go to the legnth of strapping someone into a chair and electrocuting them, rather than shooting them in the back of the head? If we must have capital punishment at all? (But that’s another issue.)

More of a “What can we do with this newfangled ‘electricity’ thing?” brainstorming session. Back in the days when electricity was a new development, scientists tried to do everything electrically.

Not if it’s done right. The electricity messes up the controls for the heart, lungs, and brain, and you die fairly quickly. It’s harder to screw up than hanging, at least. The dramatic straining against the straps and such is just caused by the electricity passing through the muscles; the person is dead before that happens. Here’s a brief history of the electric chair.

All forms of execution take quite a bit of preparation, you just see Ol’ Sparky more in movies because it’s more dramatic-looking. Accidents happen with all forms of execution, but they’re very rare due to the large amount of preparation.

Still, it seems like too much of a novelty to me. The next thing we’ll have is people being launched into space. Or death by the Internet (I’ll leave that to your imaginations.)

This idea is FAR less aesthetically appealing than electrocution. Someone’s gotta clean up all the blood and pieces of brain splattered around. And the family of the executed sure can’t have an open casket funeral. Admittedly the gas chamber is hardly a messy way to off someone. And it isn’t like cyanide hasn’t been around for a long time.

Oh, and to add to that last bit, every currently used form of execution (even firing squad – Idaho and Oklahoma have it as an option) requires the prisoner to be strapped to a chair (or table) in much the same way. Can’t have him trying to dodge your bullet to the back of the head, can we?

You’ll be happy to know that only Nebraska uses the electric chair as its sole method of execution, although a few other states let the prisoner choose between it and lethal injection.

Here’s a page describing how they all work.

Maybe a pneumatic (or hydraulic?) piston-mounted bolt or spike fired through the brain stem and into the brain would be preferable. It would destroy the brain about as fast as a bullet to the head, but without actually bursting the skull.

And it’d leave the body intact enough to harvest for organs and tissues.

Anyway, one of the reasons that they thought up death via electrocution in the first place was as a humain alternative to hanging. Like Gunslinger said, in theory, death by electrocution should be instantanious.

Of course, it took awhile to get the technical details worked out. (It probably didn’t help that Edison was trying to make AC power look bad by using it for electrocutions, as opposed to DC, which he—and his company—favored. It makes you wonder how much effort he was really putting into making the first electric chairs perform the best the could.)

Personally, though, I’d prefer the ol’ bullet to the brain. Or maybe being plunged head-first into a vat of liquid nitrogen.

There were two things going on at the time the electric chair was first put into use. First, the main method of execution back then was hanging, and New York wanted something that wasn’t quite so slow and painful. Second, Edison and Westinghouse were slugging it out in the electric industry. Edison claimed his DC system was far safer, and Westinghouse’s AC system was much more dangerous. To demonstrate his point, Edison and his followers went around electrocuting numerous animals using AC (kinda hints at how low down and dirty the fight between Edison and Westinghouse was). The press had a field day with it, and shortly thereafter the New York legislature passed a law mandating electrocution for its executions. Edison and Westinghouse slugged it out in a few more court battles, Westinghouse claiming that it was cruel and unusual punishment, and Edison claiming that it was quick and painless. In the electric chair battle, Edison won. In the electric business, he lost (mostly due to the lack of a DC equivalent of an AC transformer).

By the way, it was common back in those days (no doubt due to Edison’s campaigning) to say that someone who had been killed in an electric chair had been “Westinghoused.”

As for it being a slow and painful way to die, well, this is debatable. It’s certainly a slow and horrible way to die. The person is basically cooked to death, and sometimes nasty things do happen like their eyes pop out. Sometimes there will be flames involved, but that usually means that something wasn’t done right (oh yeah, we were supposed to wet the sponge first weren’t we :eek: ). Mostly though, when bad things like that happen, it means that it wasn’t done right. Compare this to hanging. If they drop the guy from too low of a height he chokes to death on the end of the rope (a really slow horrible way to die). If they drop him from too high, his head pops off.

The real question though is how painful is it to the electrocutee, and I don’t know how many studies have really been done on this. The theory is that the first jolt of electricity fries the brain to the point where the victim is no longer concious and no longer capable of feeling pain. One hopes that this is true, I suppose.

As far as being needlessly complex and convoluted, I’d have to disagree. It’s no more complex and convoluted than any other method of execution I can think of (off the top of my head: hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, guillotine, lethal injection). No matter what method you choose, you have to strap the guy down and prepare the execution machine.

Though botched executions are not limited to electrocution, the chair has provided some of the more spectacular failures. From the Death Penalty Information Center website:

Note that these examples are only from the period after 1982; no doubt there are dozens more that occurred prior to that time.

That makes it all okay then.

Doesn’t it?

What a barbaric way to treat another human being…


A bullet to the brain is the cheapest, least elaborate thing to do, which is why it was so popular with the old Soviet Union and our friends in China. One of my college professors had survived the Russian Revolution, and told the story of how he was a political prisoner. The guards would every so often come in and lead you down a corridor with a lot of doors. Big deal I thought. He explained that, at the time, the method of execution was for another guard to stand behind the door, and shoot the poor bastard in the back of the head by surprize. So every time they took you through a door -

He also said that they used to have a single guard take the weak, manacled prisoner through. But sometimes the shooter behind the door would be tired, or drunk, or in a bad mood, and he would blow the brains of the guard out by mistake. So they tried various methods to prevent such mistakes - like letting the prisoner have a cigarette, or stand on the right, but eventually they simply resorted to having two guards and shooting the poor schmuck in the middle.

Anyway, assuming it would have actually been a sign of god, it could have been intended to show that the executed guy was blessed by god, and his executionners were wrong. After all, isn’t the cross precisely the symbol of a capital punishment inflicted on a totally innocent person? Not sure why she didn’t consider this possibility…

Yeah, cause they’re in the chair for petty crimes…

Well, the guilty ones are. The innocent ones that are electrocuted don’t seem to have justified the punishment.

Note that filming of electrocutions are banned for one simple reason: If the common people saw what happened when someone was gassed or electrocuted, the practices would be outlawed immediately. So, keep the citizens in the dark about the dirty stuff. An uninformed electorate is a government’s highest priority.

Are you for real? Executions were once a spectator sport, fer crying out loud. People haven’t changed so much that that bloodthirsty mindset isn’t still out there in a significant portion of the populace. The people that are for capital punishment would probably watch them, and those that aren’t would still rally against them. If you don’t believe me, then look at the popularity of such gruesome sites as Ogrish.

Another unusual fact is that both the pro-death penalty and anti-death penalty folks are in favor of televising executions.

Pro-death penalty - it shows he got what he deserved.

Anti-death penalty - You see? it’s barbaric, inhumane, etc.

Agreed. Sadly some of the people who got the “chair” merely tore the tag off of a mattress or re-broadcasted events and descriptions of a Major League Baseball game without getting permission.

I must take exception to this.

Judicial hanging is actually an extremely fast method of execution, the victims neck is broken by the drop at around the secnd and third vertabra, snapping the spinal cord, death is almost instantaneous.

There are differant methods of hanging, but the one formerly favoured by the UK is by far the fastest. This is also known as the ‘long drop’.

One prisoner was declared to be deceased a mere seven seconds after leaving the condemned cell.


Long drop hanging compares very well in terms of speed and precision compared to other methods.

I have long held the opinion that the guillotine was the quickest, most painless, and least failure-prone of modern execution techniques. If I had to choose my own method of death, and my first two choices were unavailable (1st being old age and 2nd being sexual exhaution induced by the cast of “Rocco’s Reverse Gangbang”), then guillotine would be my third.

Especially considering what it replaced. However, it has a reputation as one of the most horrific and dreadful deaths.

And WTH is up with a google search for medieval torture methods returning so many pornographic sites? That even suprised this alt.tasteless veteran.

I think they should seriously consider:

•death by opiate IV overdose

•death by carbon monoxide inhalation

• death by atmospheric depressurization / anoxia
These are all noncruel and do not create gory messes, nor do they require extensive complicated ritualistic prep work.

After reading of those horribly botched electrocutions it occured to me that it’s possible a sadistic executioner could be responsible. I mean, it’s just a wild guess but who in their right mind would want to have that job. Maybe it’s his ‘dream’ job and he gets to satisfy his devient fetish legally. Is it possible someone could get off on making another human suffer so? Maybe these guys should be given a few tests and interviews by shrinks before they get to pull the lever.

Like that prick in The Green Mile: “I didn’t know the sponge was supposed to be wet.”

If our main objective was “quick & painless” we could always smash the prisoner’s head between a 16-ton anvil & a block of concrete. Cleanup consists of a low-level flunkie & a fire hose. I think there’s a company in London that does pretty good wax replications of peoples’ heads–just in case the decedent’s family would like an open casket funeral.

I submit to you that Quick & Painless (and thus humane) are not the objectives. Pro-capital punishment types want something that kills and which may provide some element of “yeah, he felt that.”