What it takes to be a Death Row executioner – and the horrific sights you see

Many outsiders may think the role of a death row executioner is unconventionally simple and that the job is complete once the criminal is declared dead – but once the deed is done, many executioners remain haunted by their actions.

The role of an executioner involves killing a healthy individual before carrying on with their other day-to-day activities – they are expected to go home to their families with some even carrying the burden without their loved ones knowing the true extent of their job.

Experts say that some executions are easier to swallow than others depending on how the death is inflicted, such as the difference between death by injection or the electric chair.

Jerry Givens was Virginia's executioner between 1982-1999 and administered the death penalty to 62 inmates, he said that electrocution can in some ways seem "more humane".

Mr Givens, sadly passed away last year but was an avid campaigner against the death penalty after administrating deaths for 25-years.

"You can't see the current go through the body. But with chemicals, it takes a while because you're dealing with three separate chemicals," he previously told The Guardian.

"You are on the other end with a needle in your hand. You can see the reaction of the body. You can see it going down the clear tube.

"You are more attached to it. I know because I have done it."

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While some executioners coped with what their job was through the method they administrated it – others said they only managed to get to grips with the role by setting themselves a daily routine.

Kenneth Dean, 52, was a part of the “tie-down team” in the busiest death row chamber in Texas in 2000 and had been involved in over 130 executions.

He said that his co-workers described him as a "teddy bear" and that he only managed to survive his job by embracing the routine – which was involving his children in the process.

“I told [my kids] ‘Daddy has to work late tonight, he has an execution’,” he told The New York Times.

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“It’s hard explaining to a seven-year-old,’’ he said. “She asked me, ‘Why do you do it?’ I told her, ‘Sweetie, it’s part of my job’.”

Some executioners said they faced many "sleepless nights" and were left on the verge of a mental breakdown – with their former role continuing to creep up on them, long after they had quit the position.

Frank Thompson was the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary and gave up the job after performing only two executions in the recent history of the state.

He said in order to prepare for the job, his team had to spend over a month rehearsing before an execution was scheduled – with a full rehearsal every week.

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The prison boss told the New York Times how his team had to focus on "leaving everyone involved with as much dignity as possible."

But he said it was difficult to carry out the job without "giving up some of your empathy and humanity".

Mr Thompson's two executions were eight months apart and expressed that carrying out the execution was all he could think about for nearly an entire year.

He also warned that executions can go wrong and said he was riddled with "anxiety" about the possibility of a botched procedure.

In other scenes in Oklahoma, Clayton Locket hit headlines after being involved in a botched execution. He was sentenced to death after he kidnapped, beat, raped and shot a 19-year-old woman before burying her alive.

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Locket was administrated with a sedative at 6.23 pm but 20 minutes into his execution he was still not dead. It was called off before he died at 7.06 pm from a heart attack after his vein had collapsed and drugs had absorbed into his tissue.

Reporter Bailey Elise McBride who was present at the execution said Lockett was “conscious and blinking, licking his lips even after the process began”, in a post on Twitter.

Another witness to the execution said "It was like a horror movie … he kept trying to talk", reports The Guardian.

Fred Allen, who was also a part of the tie-down team, said he “snapped” several years after leaving his role in a Texas prison.

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“I was just working in the shop and all of a sudden something just triggered in me and I started shaking … And tears, uncontrollable tears, were coming out of my eyes," he said in a documentary.

"And what it was, was something triggered within and it just — everybody — all of these executions all of a sudden all sprung forward.”

With many executioners continuing to step down, with some even deciding to campaign against it, it seems to be that the job is more of a temporary role.

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"What is commonly called 'executioner' is not a career," Frank Thompson said.

"Think of them as soldiers, in a war against crime who are sent to a tiny room to kill somebody."

Last year, Iraq more than halved its yearly amount of executions from at least 100 in 2019 to at least 45 in 2020, reports Amnesty international.

While Saudi Arabia reduced its total by 85%, from 184 to 27.

However, Egypt more than tripled its reported executions from at least 32 to at least 107 and reached the highest total since its 2013 peak, when at least 109 executions were carried out.

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