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Death Row Inmate Whose Mother Fled The Nazis Offered Gas Chamber

by : Tom Wood on :
Death Row Inmate Whose Mother Fled The Nazis Offered Gas Chamber
Death Row Inmate Whose Mother Fled The Nazis Offered Gas Chamber (Arizona Department of Corrections/Alamy)

The state of Arizona is offering the option of being killed in the gas chamber to a death row inmate whose mother fled Nazi Germany in 1939.

Frank Atwood is set to be executed in by the state of Arizona on 8 June after a date was set by the state’s Supreme Court.

Atwood was sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of an eight-year-old girl, and has now been given two weeks to decide whether he wishes to die by lethal injection or being gassed with lethal chemicals similar to the Zyklon-B that was used to kill millions of people during the Holocaust.

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Atwood’s Jewish mother fled Nazi Germany in 1939, two years before the Holocaust began.

Jewish groups have hit out at the possibility of using lethal gases similar to those that were used by Nazis during the Second World War, but some states in the US are currently facing problems with lethal injections including a shortage of chemicals and debates around whether the method is humane.

Frank Atwood. Credit: Arizona Department of Corrections
Frank Atwood. Credit: Arizona Department of Corrections

There’s a wider debate to be had about whether capital punishment in any form is humane, but in states where the death penalty is legal some are seeking alternative methods of carrying out executions including electric chair, firing squad and gas chambers.

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According to Atwood’s lawyer, prison authorities are considering using hydrogen cyanide to kill him.

Hydrogen cyanide is the main component of Zyklon-B, which was used in the gas chambers of concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Lawyer Joe Perkovich also drew attention to the fact that Atwood’s mother had fled Germany in 1939 to avoid persecution by the Nazis.

Atwood himself has since been baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church.

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Execution by gas chamber is currently legal in seven US states, although it has not been used in any since 1999.

Most states that allow the death penalty have only executed with lethal injection in recent times.

However, debate over whether the method causes unnecessary suffering and the unwillingness of pharmaceutical companies to provide the drugs has made executing prisoners more difficult, leading to less executions overall.

There is a debate about whether lethal injection is a humane method of execution. Credit: Alamy
There is a debate about whether lethal injection is a humane method of execution. Credit: Alamy
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The last execution carried out in Arizona saw an inmate convulse for two hours after being administered the cocktail of drugs.

Before Atwood, Arizona plans to execute Clarence Dixon on 11 May. He was offered the same two-week choice, but did not choose and therefore was accepted to have chosen the injection.

Perkovich claimed Atwood was given 'false choices' and should be allowed to choose the firing squad instead.

"By designating cyanide gas, the Department is cynically forcing Mr. Atwood to accept the torture of a lethal injection, playing out a version of the grim fate that befell the last person subjected to that method in Arizona," Perkovich said.

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"If the Department fails to revise its procedures to provide a constitutional form of lethal gas, then Arizona law should be revised to permit execution by firing squad, a simple and inexpensive method used since the invention of firearms."

The local Jewish community submitted an unsuccessful complaint to prevent authorities from using hydrogen cyanide in February.

Arizona's gas chamber was last used in 1999. Credit: Alamy
Arizona's gas chamber was last used in 1999. Credit: Alamy

Tim Eckstein, the head of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix, said: “It is appalling that Arizona would choose to use Zyklon-B for this purpose — the very same chemical compound that was used by the Nazis in Auschwitz to murder more than one million people.”

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