While the executions became more private affairs rather than public events; new, alternative methods of executing a person were also being researched into. The problems with hanging were becoming more frequent; with new revisions such as the "upright jerker" led to bungled hangings that caused decapitations, strangulations and in some cases, not actually causing death. Some criminals that were executed were revived through electrical shocks and in one instance, a man had to be hanged for a second time after he was heard scratching inside his coffin.
The invention of electricity swept across America, introduced a new alternative form of capital punishment. The state of New York investigated into new methods of execution, and by a marginal vote concluded that the electric chair was the most reliable and humane option. Banner explains that the electric chair was also the most "… visually accepting alternative. "(p181) Again, the issue of the witness and what he or she would experience during the execution played an integral part of the decision process. This is why other methods like the guillotine, garrotte and poisoning were not selected.
Each alternative, was evaluated with the same critical procedure as a business interview; with those putting forward their cases for particular execution methods. Along with most forms of capital punishment, the electric chair was a complicated tool. It required knowledge on voltages and no room for error. This led to executions being conducted (no pun intended) by skilled, reliable state officials. Performing and operating the executions themselves demanded a talent which could be associated with any other social skill. The First "electrocution" took place in New York's Auburn Prison in 1890.
The location of the execution, and further new methods of execution, created further debates on the disadvantages compared to public hangings. Electrocutions had to take place indoors, for the necessary reasons of the equipment used, this also meant that the number of witnesses had to be restricted to the size of a room. Also, because the electric chair was an expensive piece of equipment only one or two state prisons could afford to install and run one. This meant that those condemned to execution would be moved to the nearest prison.
Thus taking out the community affected by that person's crime and turning a social deterrent into a state sponsored killing. The only state after the turn of the 19th Century to conduct a public execution, took place in Kentucky. Two public hangings were carried out when the rape of a white woman by a black male occurred. This did deliver a social message and deterrent, but only towards the black population. It was a state lynching in all but name. Although early electrocutions, and in eleven states where the gas chamber was used, proved successful; there were still mistakes made.
Inexperienced officials did not switch between voltages correctly during one execution, and led to the victim being electrocuted for approx. 20 minutes. Witnesses complained that they were overcome by the smell of roast pork. The gas chamber was a lot more dangerous when mistakes were involved. Cyanide tablets were dropped into a poison which was then pumped into the execution chamber. In one case, the tablets did not drop correctly and a state official had to drop them in by hand and run away. Again, in some cases where executions did not go to plan, witnesses were forced to watch the suffering unfolding in front of them.
This is where we come to the lethal injection. In 2002 there were 819 executions in the United States; 656 of them were by lethal injection, 8 of which were women. Oklahoma was the first state to implement the lethal injection in 1977. The execution involves three separate injections, that once administered lead to a painless, trouble free execution and it takes approx. 8 minutes for the criminal to die. It is the most reliable form of capital punishment in the United States today and is used by 37 states.
However, it is the actual process, that is the longest of all methods of execution. The protocol, from start to finish, takes between 30 and 45 minutes. This is a punishment in itself, as the condemned awaits his inevitable execution. Banner points out how the long procedure causes mental torture because of the anticipation of what is to come. Many other countries use the lethal injection as their most common form of capital punishment. Guatemala, for example put two suspected kidnappers to death in 2002, simultaneously and actually televised the execution.
Again, not all executions go to plan and there are many instances where lethal injections have gone awry. In 1986, drug addict Randy Woolls had to help execution technicians find a suitable vein for the injections; and in Raymond Landry's case in 1988, the catheter used to inject the chemicals flew out of his arm and sprayed chemicals all over the execution chamber, right in front of several state witnesses. On this occasion, a curtain was drawn preventing the spectators from seeing what was going on, and they were forced to wait 14 minutes until the curtains were re-opened.
Overall, the search for new, more reliable and humane methods of execution has also removed two pivotal advantages of the execution process. Firstly, because execution as have become isolated events, the goal of public deterrence is removed. And secondly, due to the long wait on death row and the execution being taken away from the community and held in a state rather than county prison, those most affected by the crimes do not feel that justice has been done in their name. Banner concludes by saying it is the state and not the people "doing the killing. "(p206)