America, perhaps more than any other country, has tinkered with the mechanics of legal executions in a search for the “perfect” method. In operational terms, perfect means the most tame and reliable method of killing made possible by existing technology. Our preferred methods have evolved over the centuries. Beginning with the rather simple and unambiguous violence of hangings and shootings (by firing squads)—which involved direct and unembellished applications of techniques used elsewhere in the world and, in the case of hangings, in practice for centuries—we moved on to the...
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