An American prison superintendent has written about sacrificing empathy and humanity in order to execute two men.
When Semon Frank Thompson joined Oregon State Penitentiary he was charged with carrying out the only two executions in state history for 54 years.
The executions of convicted murderers Douglas Franklin Wright (d. 1996) and Harry Charles Moore (d. 1997) were the first to use lethal injection, and the last to take place in the State before Oregon outlawed capital punishment.
Thompson has now penned a heartfelt article in The New York Times detailing the experience and the damaging impact state-sanctioned killing – which he dubs a ‘dismal failure’ – had on his staff.
The retired superintendent and Vietnam era veteran describes the ‘surreal business’ of planning an execution, adding ‘I used to support the death penalty. I don’t anymore… I cannot put into words the anxiety I felt about the possibility of a botched procedure.”
He details the process of practising execution procedure for over a month in advance. Weekly ‘run through’ executions reportedly took their toll on staff who volunteered to serve in this capacity, struggling to leave ‘everyone involved with as much dignity as possible.’
Together, we had spent many hours planning and carrying out the deaths of two people.
The state-ordered killing of a person is premeditated and calculated, and inevitably some of those involved incur collateral damage. I have seen it.
It’s hard to avoid giving up some of your empathy and humanity to aid in the killing of another human being.
The death sentence is still an aspect of the judicial system in 31 states in America. There have already been 15 executions in America in 2016, and 1437 in the last 30 years.
Thompson’s article hopes to raise awareness in America of the futility of a system that condones eye for an eye justice. Meanwhile, Thompson laments, ‘Capital punishment keeps grinding on, out of sight of society.’