Interview With a Virginia Executioner

Meet Jerry Givens, former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, with 62 state-sponsored killings under his belt. As he tells ABC News, he's sorry now and he has come to oppose capital punishment.

As the state's chief executioner, Givens pushed the buttons that administered lethal doses of electricity to the condemned. He could even choose how many volts to administer. And he is the first to admit that it was largely guesswork.

"If he was a small guy, I didn't give that much. You try not to cook the body, you know. I hate to sound gross,'' he told ABC News in a rare interview.

Givens has no formal medical training. although he once took a first aid course. He was given on the job training by his counterparts in Texas.

Among the reasons he's now opposed to the death penalty:

After the death penalty was reinstated in Virginia, Givens noted, ruefully, "crime went up.''

Givens' real doubts began with the number of wrongful convictions. He says: [More...]

"You're the American people,'' he said, growing momentarily animated. "You sentenced a guy to be executed. You give him a trial, then you send him to me to be put to death.

"Then later on you [say] that this guy was innocent. You didn't put him to death. I did. "I performed the execution. So you might suffer a little. I'm going to suffer a lot, because I performed the job."

ABC showed Givens the guidelines of the American Veterinary Medical Association that say, in essence, you wouldn't kill a dog this way and asked if it bothered him. He responded "Yes."

Givens left the job in 2000 after being convicted of perjury and money laundering related to his purchase of automobiles for a childhood friend who was also a drug dealer.

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    in fairness to mr. givens, (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Mon Dec 17, 2007 at 11:53:45 PM EST
    he's probably more the norm, then the exception, among executioners, with respect to a lack of any kind of formal medical training.

    as well, how much formal medical training do you really need, to successfully kill someone? geez, we have mass murderers, with barely a high school education, who've been doing it for years. the only difference is that mr. givens' murders were state sanctioned affairs, not "do-it-yourself" activities.

    the man was doing a job, as well as he could. i doubt he had anything personal against any of the people he killed.

    I don't know bro.... (none / 0) (#6)
    by kdog on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 05:23:32 PM EST
    Personally, I can only take the "I've gotta pay my rent" defense so far.  I'd say most of us are party to ugliness to varying degrees in the process of making our living, I know I am.  But killing people for a living?...Literally?  

    That I can't just shrug off as "strictly business, nothing personal".  Let's call it what it is....a hitman who takes contracts from the state.

    The whole "medical training" issue thing is as ludicrous to me as swabbing the condemned with alcohol before you lethally inject them.


    Not surprising (none / 0) (#2)
    by txpublicdefender on Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 10:08:16 AM EST
    I remember reading an article years ago when the warden of the Texas unit that houses Texas' death row was retiring that seemed to indicate that most of the people that actually worked in the business of executing people did not like the death penalty, for all sorts of reasons.  

    probably for the same reasons (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 11:11:36 AM EST
    that people who've actually been in combat, tend to be less than enthusiastic about starting wars, than people that haven't. it's a whole lot easier to support something, in the abstract, then it is to actually get your hands dirty doing it.

    in fact, one could argue they're pretty much one and the same people. notice the most ardent supporters of our involvement in iraq are people that studiously avoided participating themselves, when they were of an age. as well, the younger members of this group tend to be part of the "fighten' 101st keyboard division", rather than enlisting and truly putting their lives at risk.

    same with those who are ardent supporters of capital punishment: i doubt they've ever seen or participated in a real execution. nor would they, given the opportunity to do so.

    disclaimer: i have no empirical data supporting these opinions, merely anecdotal. so don't bother wasting time asking for cites to support them.


    He said... (none / 0) (#4)
    by desertswine on Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 11:18:04 AM EST
    "If the jury, if you let the [jury] foreman be the executioner, than I think they'd give a second thought about execution. If you let the judge be the executioner, I think he would give a second thought about sending somebody to be executed."

    wrongful deaths in Virginia (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Wed Dec 19, 2007 at 04:06:29 PM EST
    How many people who have been executed in Virginia have been found to have been innocent?