What It Was Like to Execute 62 People

Jerry Givens describes 17 years as a Virginia's executioner

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 29, 2013 6:48 PM CST

(Newser) – Jerry Givens is on a campaign to end capital punishment, and he comes to the issue with a pretty unique perspective: He worked for Virginia's department of corrections for 25 years, and was its executioner from 1982 to 1999. "When I accepted the job, there was nobody on death row in Virginia," he wrote in reply to reader questions submitted to the Guardian. "I had no idea that I would actually execute 62 people"—something he did via both lethal injection and electrocution. He describes the job (frequent testing of the equipment, training for if the condemned put up a fight), his pay (between roughly $39,000 and $50,000 per year), the lead-up to the execution (which involved a 24-hour death watch, and special security guards who oversaw the death chamber) and then being "on the other end with a needle in your hand."

"You can actually see the chemical going down the line and into the arm and see the effects of it," he notes. If he had to choose, he opt to die via electrocution, which "in some ways seems more humane." But now, of course, he's against it entirely. After Givens himself was convicted of money laundering and perjury in connection with a friend's alleged scheme, without what he called "a fair trial," he realized some he executed may not have had one either. "When I found out they had some innocent people on death row that came almost hours before I had to take their life, then I knew we had to change." He saw the forced exit from the job—he served 57 months—as a blessing. "If I had known what I had to go through as an executioner, I wouldn't have done it. You can't tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal." Click for the full Q&A.

This Nov. 18, 2011 file photo shows the execution room at the Oregon State Penitentiary, in Salem, Ore.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
This Nov. 18, 2011 file photo shows the leg tie downs on the gurney in the execution room at the Oregon State Penitentiary, in Salem, Ore.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
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