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Electricity in Executions.

The New York correspondent of the ‘ Argus ’ wonders if there is any country in the world where the temerity of lawyers goes so far as it does in the United States. He says :—“AsI wrote you last winter, the Legislature of the State of New York (on the report of a Commission of the highest character) passed a law that the death penalty should, after the Ist of July, be inflicted in this State by the use of electricity in such form and by such machinery as the authorities should determine. Since then a German of the lowest class has been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death under this law for a most brutal and cowardly murder. The motive and the circumstances were particularly revolting. Suddenly a lot of eminent lawyers, led by Mr Burke Cochran, who is a very prominent local politician as well, appear before one of the Courts, and commence a suit to prevent the execution on the ground that it comes under the prohibition in the constitution of ‘ cruel and unusual punishments,’ and a tedious and expensive litigation Is going on. Of course the prisoner, who was little more than a tramp, and practically penniless, has no money to pay these costly lawyers. They are undoubtedly employed by the electric light companies, who fear, on the one hand, that electricity will be made to seem more dangerous than it now seems if it be employed for putting criminals to death; and, on the other hand, that their business will suffer a certain sentimental discredit. That death by electricity is unusual as a punishment cannot be denied, for it has never been so inflicted ; but it is not in itself unusual, for since the suit has been begun there have been several cases of death through the handling of ‘live’ electric wires; in two instances the deaths have been of employes of one electric light company in this city. The testimony brought forward has, however, been directed to prove—first, that death was not certain from any know current of electricity; and second, that if the current killed, or did not kill, It was liable to produce very great suffering. Nor have the ‘ experts ’ who, as is customary in this country, are only a species of special counsel, paid by the companies, and committed to their side of the questionstopped at this. One of them has gravely maintained that a victim might be charged with electricity until the signs of life ceased to manifest themselves, and might remain apparently dead for several days, and on being laid in the grave might be completely discharged and return to consciousness. It is quite impossible to say what delay may result from this procedure, or whether it may not lost until after another session of the Legislature in which the law may be repealed. But it seems essentially ridiculous that there should be any doubt that electricity can be made to kill, to kill with greater celerity and with as little pain as in any form of death where an jasthetios are not used.”

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Bibliographic details

Electricity in Executions., Evening Star, Issue 8009, 11 September 1889

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Electricity in Executions. Evening Star, Issue 8009, 11 September 1889