The Evolution Of Execution

From Stoning To Hanging To Injection

A weekly commentary by CBS News Correspondent Andy Rooney


If they ever do execute Timothy McVeigh, a lot of people who want to watch will be sitting behind a glass partition seeing him die in seconds.

I personally am not a big fan of watching anyone die - even so evil a person as Timothy McVeigh - but for those who are, I should think having it happen so quickly would be less satisfying.

Humans have thought up hundreds of ways to put other humans to death over the years and executions have always been crowd-pleasers. Stoning was once common, with rocks.

Crucifixion was another common method of execution. People gathered to watch the victim die slowly. Jesus Christ was history's most famous victim.

In 1790, Dr. Joseph Guillotine invented the beheading machine named after him. It was the first relatively humane method.

Firing squads are dramatic. The story always was that one of the guns was loaded with blanks so that no one of the squad knew for certain he had killed anyone.

Would the relative of a victim want to volunteer to be one of the shooters?

Hangings have been frequent in the United States. They say the victim's neck is broken when he drops and he dies instantly - but who knows for certain?

The electric chair is the least civilized of the modern methods of putting someone to death. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said the electric chair is the “contemporary equivalent of burning people at the stake."

Thirty-eight states have capital punishment laws. Twelve don't have any. Since 1930, 4,560 people have been put to death officially in the U.S. Only 39 of those have been women - which doesn't seem fair.

Hawaii and Michigan have never put anyone to death. Texas is a leader in both murders and executions. They did it to 40 people last year alone.

The official methods left are lethal injection, now the most popular, gas, and electrocution. Hanging is still legal in Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington. Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah still have firing squads. Some states give the prisoner a choice between being fried, poisoned or shot. I'd rather be surprised.

Revenge is an emotion we all reluctantly enjoy and capital punishment is society's ultimate revenge.

If, as we all hope, people are gradually becoming more civilized, maybe capital punishment will soon be a spectacle of our less civilized past.

Have a nice day.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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