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Report No. 187

(i) Electrocution

In a typical execution using the electric chair, a prisoner is strapped to a specially built chair, his head and body shaved to provide better contact with the moistened copper electrodes that the executioner attaches. Usually three or more executioners push buttons, but only one is connected to the actual electrical source and therefore the real executioner is not known. The jolt varies in power from state to state, and is also determined by the convict's body weight. The first jolt is followed by several more in a lower voltage.

In Georgia, executioners apply 2,000 volts for four seconds, 1,000 volts for the next seven seconds and then 208 volts for two minutes. Electrocution produces visibly destructive effects on the body, as the internal organs are burned. The prisoner usually leaps forward against the restraints when the switch is turned on. The 16body changes color, swells, and may even catch fire. The prisoner may also defecate, urinate, and vomit blood. The first electric chair designed for an execution was created by George Westinghouse at the turn of the century.

Westinghouse was propositioned by the New York City Correctional Institution to design an electric chair, because many felt that the present form of execution, hanging, had become too inhumane and out-dated. Westinghouse told the correctional institution that the chair's power source was so deadly that it would only take five seconds of 1,000 volts to cause death. However, the first man executed did not die after five seconds, but instead took four minutes of a steady stream of power to be finally pronounced dead.

During these four minutes the body of the convict started to smoke, the hair on his arms and head ignited in flames, and blood spilled from every orifice on his face. After this display, the electric chair was considered a failure. Today the electric chair is modernized and is used in eleven States of U.S.A. But, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia States of U.S.A. authorize both lethal injection and electrocution, allowing the inmates to choose one of these methods. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Nebraska, however, use electrocution as the sole means of execution. Since 1976, 144 people have been executed by electric chair.

Mode of Execution of Death Sentence and Incidental Matters Back

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