In Arizona on July 23, prison officials needed nearly two hours to complete the execution of double murderer Joseph Wood. In April 2014, Oklahoma authorities spent some 40 minutes trying to kill Clayton Lockett before he finally died of a heart attack.
Our long search for the perfect mode of killing—quiet, tidy and superficially humane—has brought us to this: rooms full of witnesses shifting miserably in their seats as unconscious men writhe and snort and gasp while strapped to gurneys.
Despite extraordinary efforts by the courts and enormous expense to taxpayers, the modern death penalty remains slow, costly and uncertain.
For the overwhelming majority of condemned prisoners, the final step—that last short march with the strap-down team—will never be taken.
The case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev absorbed Americans as no death-penalty drama has in years.