The toll of executions on the executioners | Arkansas Blog

The toll of executions on the executioners


EXECUTION CHAMBER:Short of witnesses.
  • EXECUTION CHAMBER:Short of witnesses.
The Guardian is one of many worldwide publications focusing on Arkansas's plan to execute eight men in 10 days, here with comments from a former executioner on the toll killing other humans takes on those who carry out the death penalty.

The Guardian talked with Dr. Allen Ault, the former correction commissioner of Georgia, about his experience overseeing five electrocutions.

Despite the passage of so many years, he feels troubled to this day by what he did. “I had a lot of guilt, my conscience totally bothered me,” he said. “When the switch was thrown that first time, and I realized I had just killed a man, that was pretty traumatic. Then to have to do it again and again and again, it got so that I absolutely could not go through with it.”

... One of Ault’s prime concerns relates not to the eight convicted capital murderers who are set to die, but to the men and women of the execution team who are being asked, just as he was two decades ago, to kill in the name of justice. “To ask corrections officials in Arkansas to kill eight people, two a day – as someone who went through this, I can’t tell you how deeply concerned I am for their mental health,” he said.

“As the old saying goes,” he went on, “you dig two graves: one for the condemned, one for the avenger. That’s what will happen to this execution team – many of them will figuratively have to dig their own grave too.”

Ault said his role at the head of the team that had killed five men left him feeling “lower than the most despicable person”. He felt degraded to a level below that of the heinous murderers he was confronting, a sense that was amplified by how much planning went into the protocols. “I had a manual about an inch thick that I had to follow. What I did was much more premeditated than any of the murders committed by those I executed.”

Then there was the defenselessness of the man on the gurney: “You are taking a totally defenseless person, planning, premeditating, even rehearsing, then killing him – any sane person other than a psychopath would be dramatically affected by that.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson's office refused to discuss what steps if any were being taken to look after the well-being of the execution team.

All the spokesman would say was that the governor had no intention of talking to the national or international media before next month’s executions, on the grounds that there was nothing to discuss. “There’s no debate here – this is not like the future of healthcare in America. The governor has the duty to carry out these executions that were decided by a jury. This is the law of Arkansas and of the federal government of the United States.”

In previous statements, the governor’s office has argued that it will be “more efficient and less stressful” for those involved in carrying out the killing to see them through in quick succession. Given his rich personal experience, that sounds like arrogant negligence to Allen Ault.

“If the governor is so hot on this, he ought to go down to the death chamber and do it himself. But he won’t, they don’t, they never do. Politicians are never in the room when it happens, they never have to suffer anything.”
The death penalty enjoys, if that's the word, broad support in Arkansas. Nonetheless, a sign of individual squeamishness, even among supporters, was evident in news that the Department of Correction was having trouble filling the slots for required public witnesses.

I repeat again a call for 48 legislators, six for each of the scheduled executions, to volunteer to see the law they support carried out.

ALSO ON THIS TOPIC: Among those in town to fight the death penalty plan in Arkansas is Jerry Givens, a retired Virginia executioner, who can speak from experience on the impact on executioners. He was the lead executioner for 62 electrocutions or lethal injections.

Gary Drinkard, who spent six years on Alabama's Death Row before being exonerated of the crime, will speak with Givens at a town hall at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Bowen School of Law.

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