Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty

Overview


"How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection," wrote Justice Scalia, in a concurring opinion that denied review of a Texas death penalty case. But is it quiet? Renewed and vigorous debate over the death penalty has erupted as DNA testing has proven that many on death row are in fact innocent. In this debate, however, the guilty have been forgotten. In his new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, renowned legal scholar Austin Sarat describes just how unquiet death by ...
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Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty

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Overview


"How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection," wrote Justice Scalia, in a concurring opinion that denied review of a Texas death penalty case. But is it quiet? Renewed and vigorous debate over the death penalty has erupted as DNA testing has proven that many on death row are in fact innocent. In this debate, however, the guilty have been forgotten. In his new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, renowned legal scholar Austin Sarat describes just how unquiet death by execution can be. If we assume a death row prisoner is guilty, how can we be sure that we are fulfilling the Supreme Court's mandate to ensure that his execution is "the mere extinguishment of life" and not a cruel and unusual punishment?

Gruesome Spectacles is a history of botched, mismanaged, and painful executions in the U.S. from 1890–2010. Using new research, Sarat traces the evolution of methods of execution that were employed during this time, and were meant to improve on the methods that went before, from hanging or firing squad to electrocution to gas and lethal injection. Even though each of these technologies was developed to "perfect" state killing by decreasing the chance of a cruel death, an estimated three percent of all American executions went awry in one way or another. Sarat recounts the gripping and truly gruesome stories of some of these deaths—stories obscured by history and to some extent, the popular press.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"America has no more incisive scholar of capital punishment than Austin Sarat, who always has something fresh to say. Gruesome Spectacles offers readers new and provocative insights."—Scott Turow, author of Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty

"Austin Sarat's spellbinding book has captured the spirit of his agile mind. Gruesome Spectacles is provocatively written and sure to keep readers keenly interested in the captivating stories of many death row prisoners. This book will hook you from the first chapter and continue to fascinate you throughout its journey. A must-read."—Charles Ogletree, author of All Deliberate Speed and The Presumption of Guilt

"We have harnessed the power to annihilate life on earth. Yet we still can't seem to extinguish, quickly, painlessly, and reliability, a single human life. Gruesome Spectacles tells us why. With his bright, clear, and extra-ordinary prose, Austin Sarat raises many disturbing and profound questions—not only about botched executions—but about State authorized killings made on behalf of the American people. A gripping and provocative read."—Richard Moran, Mount Holyoke College

Library Journal
06/15/2014
Originally intended as public spectacles, public executions eventually became distasteful to middle-class Americans, who viewed them as uncivilized. After many public hangings went terribly wrong and created a "gruesome spectacle" for observers, other methods of execution were proposed, each intended to be more painless and humane than the last. Yet in each case, the promise of a peaceful death proved wrong. Sarat (William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst Coll.), who has a special interest in the death penalty, covers various methods of execution, the theory behind each as a painless alternative, and the horrifically botched executions that belie this argument. He explains that despite the sensational nature of executions, newspapers tend to cover the mishandled ones as "misfortunes" rather than miscarriages of justice and all the reasons to question the death penalty—the gruesome and cruel and unusual punishment involved in the violent taking of a human life—have not swayed the general public. VERDICT The academic tone of this book may discourage casual readers, but the stories and ethical questions are riveting. Those interested in the history of criminal justice in America and true crime fans will be fascinated.—Deirdre Bray, Middletown P.L., OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804789165
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 316,107
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. Sarat has written for numerous academic and trade publications, and his books include: When the State Kills (2001), Mercy on Trial (2005) and Re-imagining To Kill a Mockingbird: Family, Community, and the Possibility of Equal Justice under Law (2013).
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