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By Mary E. Williams

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You’re walking, mechanically—out through the death watch cell entrance, around the bend in the short hallway, through a doorway. And there it is. The gas chamber. No stopping now. No turning back. You’re hustled into this squat, octagonal, glass and metal-sided cell within a room. Its elaborate gadgets don’t interest you. Quickly you find yourself seated in the chair. The guards strip you down. Their movements are swift and sure, smoothly rehearsed. The stethoscope is connected. 47 Capital Punishment Frontmatter 2/24/04 8:14 AM Page 48 Capital Punishment There!

Too often, defenders of the death penalty argue for its morality in a theoretical, idealized world. The claim that killing is morally justified must be reconciled with disquieting facts: the inevitability of wrongful convictions, the reality of discrimination on the basis of wealth and race, the likelihood that executions increase the murder rate, the reality that millions of dollars must be squandered to bring about a single execution. Killing is a morally acceptable penalty only if it is essential, and only if it provides substantial benefits that cannot be gained by any other means.

He knew as well that today’s condemned prisoner suffers the ignominy of an impersonal death inflicted by faceless bureaucrats. This prisoner is reduced to the status of an object and disposed of according to a schedule. Your waiting is over. Three of the executioner’s assistants come for you. The cell door is unlocked, opened. ” It’s time to die, to be executed. You stand there for an instant, unmoving. Perhaps you take a last drag on your cigarette, drop the butt, step on it. Three pairs of eyes watch you.

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