Convicted murder Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad just after midnight yesterday—at his own request. Did he make the right choice? Though the method may sound gory—Gardner was strapped into a chair with a mesh seat to allow the blood to drain through—it's not an awful way to go, writes Margot Sanger-Katz for Slate. In 1938, a Utah inmate who was similarly executed agreed to be hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine. It showed complete heart death within one minute of the shots; a "complication-free" lethal injection takes around 9 minutes.
And the "complication-free" part matters: Botched executions by lethal injection have gotten plenty of press of late. Those officials who administer them have no medical training, notes Sanger-Katz (doctors' and nurses' professional associations forbid them from participating). But "it's easy to find psychologically stable, trained professionals with experience shooting to kill." So why don't all states just switch to firing squads? Because it seems like a less humane, medical, and dignified method, say death penalty scholars, and because firing squads can cause a frenzy: Utah officials heard from "a flurry of volunteers" who were willing to play executioner.
(Read more Ronnie Lee Gardner stories.)