Man smiles, says ‘Let’s rock’ before dying in electric chair
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI
Friday, November 2
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee inmate grimaced and waved goodbye before saying “let’s rock,” moments before he became the first man executed in the electric chair in that state since 2007, put to death Thursday for shooting two men and slitting their throats during a drug deal decades ago.
Edmund Zagorski, 63, was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. Thursday at a Nashville maximum-security prison, officials said.
Asked by the prison warden if he had any last words in the death chamber, Zagorski said, “Let’s rock,” shortly before the execution was carried out.
A reporter who witnessed the scene said at a post-execution news briefing that Zagorski could be seen smiling while strapped down. A large sea sponge that had been doused in salt water was soon placed on his head. While guards wiped his face clear of water dripping down his face, Zagorski quietly said there was still water under his nose and asked for it to be removed before his face was shrouded with a large black cloth.
The witnesses said the inmate’s fists then clenched when the electricity was applied and his body tensed and appeared to rise during the two times the current went through him. He did not move afterward.
Five media witnesses watched Zagorski’s execution along with Zagorski’s attorney, the prison’s chaplain and a representative from the attorney general’s office.
Another reporter said Zagorski’s attorney Kelly Henry was nodding, smiling and tapping her heart just before the execution got underway. When asked about her actions, Henry said afterward: “I told him when I put my hand over my heart, that was me holding him in my heart.”
She said Zagorski told her the last thing he wanted to see was her smiling face, and so she made an effort to smile at him before the shroud was put over his face. After it was done, Henry quietly wiped away tears.
Later, Henry said it appeared that Zagorski’s pinkies had become dislocated. She said that can be common when the body undergoes such extreme blunt force trauma.
A phone hung on the wall in the witness room, allowing Henry to have access to a telephone should anything have gone wrong. A federal judge had earlier this week ordered the state to have a phone accessible.
In opting for the electric chair over a lethal injection as Tennessee allowed him, Zagorski had argued it would be a quicker and less painful way to die. He became only the second person to die in the electric chair in Tennessee since 1960. Nationwide, only 14 other people have been put to death in the electric chair since 2000, including a Virginia inmate in 2013.
The execution was carried out minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday evening denied the inmate’s request for a stay. Zagorski’s attorneys had argued it was unconstitutional to force him to choose between the electric chair and lethal injection.
The state came close to administering an injection to Zagorski three weeks ago, a plan halted by Tennessee’s governor when Zagorski exercised his right to request the electric chair.
The Supreme Court’s statement said Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the dissenting voice on Thursday, noting Zagorski’s difficult decision to opt for the electric chair. In Tennessee, condemned inmates whose crimes occurred before 1999 can choose the electric chair — one of a handful of states that allow such a choice.
“He did so not because he thought that it was a humane way to die, but because he thought that the three-drug cocktail that Tennessee had planned to use was even worse,” Sotomayor said in the statement. “Given what most people think of the electric chair, it’s hard to imagine a more striking testament — from a person with more at stake — to the legitimate fears raised by the lethal-injection drugs that Tennessee uses.”
Zagorski was convicted of an April 1983 double slaying. Prosecutors said Zagorski shot John Dotson and Jimmy Porter and then slit their throats after robbing the two men after they came to him to buy marijuana.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on whether use of the electric chair violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but it came close about 20 years ago after a series of botched electrocutions in Florida. During two executions in the 1990s, smoke and flames shot from the condemned inmates’ heads. In 1999, blood spilled from under an inmate’s mask. Shortly afterward, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the electric chair. But the case was dropped when Florida made lethal injection its primary execution method.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam declined to intervene in Zagorski’s case despite receiving pleas from correctional officers, Zagorski’s priest and former jurors who convicted the inmate.
At the time of Zagorski’s conviction, Tennessee juries were not given the option of considering life without parole.
Protesters held vigils Thursday in Knoxville and Memphis, and outside the prison where Zagorski was executed. There some raised a banner with the words: “A Free Tennessee is Execution-Free.”
Associated Press writer Travis Loller contributed to this report in Nashville.
Frankenstein: the real experiments that inspired the fictional science
October 26, 2018
Author: Iwan Morus, Professor of History, Aberystwyth University
Disclosure statement: Iwan Morus receives funding from the AHRC as part of the Unsettling Scientific Stories project.
Partners: Aberystwyth University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
On January 17 1803, a young man named George Forster was hanged for murder at Newgate prison in London. After his execution, as often happened, his body was carried ceremoniously across the city to the Royal College of Surgeons, where it would be publicly dissected. What actually happened was rather more shocking than simple dissection though. Forster was going to be electrified.
The experiments were to be carried out by the Italian natural philosopher Giovanni Aldini, the nephew of Luigi Galvani, who discovered “animal electricity” in 1780, and for whom the field of galvanism is named. With Forster on the slab before him, Aldini and his assistants started to experiment. The Times newspaper reported:
On the first application of the process to the face, the jaw of the deceased criminal began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened. In the subsequent part of the process, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs and thighs were set in motion.
It looked to some spectators “as if the wretched man was on the eve of being restored to life.”
By the time Aldini was experimenting on Forster the idea that there was some peculiarly intimate relationship between electricity and the processes of life was at least a century old. Isaac Newton speculated along such lines in the early 1700s. In 1730, the English astronomer and dyer Stephen Gray demonstrated the principle of electrical conductivity. Gray suspended an orphan boy on silk cords in mid air, and placed a positively charged tube near the boy’s feet, creating a negative charge in them. Due to his electrical isolation, this created a positive charge in the child’s other extremities, causing a nearby dish of gold leaf to be attracted to his fingers.
In France in 1746 Jean Antoine Nollet entertained the court at Versailles by causing a company of 180 royal guardsmen to jump simultaneously when the charge from a Leyden jar (an electrical storage device) passed through their bodies.
It was to defend his uncle’s theories against the attacks of opponents such as Alessandro Volta that Aldini carried out his experiments on Forster. Volta claimed that “animal” electricity was produced by the contact of metals rather than being a property of living tissue, but there were several other natural philosophers who took up Galvani’s ideas with enthusiasm. Alexander von Humboldt experimented with batteries made entirely from animal tissue. Johannes Ritter even carried out electrical experiments on himself to explore how electricity affected the sensations.
The idea that electricity really was the stuff of life and that it might be used to bring back the dead was certainly a familiar one in the kinds of circles in which the young Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – the author of Frankenstein – moved. The English poet, and family friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was fascinated by the connections between electricity and life. Writing to his friend the chemist Humphry Davy after hearing that he was giving lectures at the Royal Institution in London, he told him how his “motive muscles tingled and contracted at the news, as if you had bared them and were zincifying the life-mocking fibres”. Percy Bysshe Shelley himself – who would become Wollstonecraft’s husband in 1816 – was another enthusiast for galvanic experimentation.
Aldini’s experiments with the dead attracted considerable attention. Some commentators poked fun at the idea that electricity could restore life, laughing at the thought that Aldini could “make dead people cut droll capers”. Others took the idea very seriously. Lecturer Charles Wilkinson, who assisted Aldini in his experiments, argued that galvanism was “an energising principle, which forms the line of distinction between matter and spirit, constituting in the great chain of the creation, the intervening link between corporeal substance and the essence of vitality”.
In 1814 the English surgeon John Abernethy made much the same sort of claim in the annual Hunterian lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons. His lecture sparked a violent debate with fellow surgeon William Lawrence. Abernethy claimed that electricity was (or was like) the vital force while Lawrence denied that there was any need to invoke a vital force at all to explain the processes of life. Both Mary and Percy Shelley certainly knew about this debate – Lawrence was their doctor.
By the time Frankenstein was published in 1818, its readers would have been familiar with the notion that life could be created or restored with electricity. Just a few months after the book appeared, the Scottish chemist Andrew Ure carried out his own electrical experiments on the body of Matthew Clydesdale, who had been executed for murder. When the dead man was electrified, Ure wrote, “every muscle in his countenance was simultaneously thrown into fearful action; rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles, united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face”.
Ure reported that the experiments were so gruesome that “several of the spectators were forced to leave the apartment, and one gentleman fainted”. It is tempting to speculate about the degree to which Ure had Mary Shelley’s recent novel in mind as he carried out his experiments. His own account of them was certainly quite deliberately written to highlight their more lurid elements.
Frankenstein might look like fantasy to modern eyes, but to its author and original readers there was nothing fantastic about it. Just as everyone knows about artificial intelligence now, so Shelley’s readers knew about the possibilities of electrical life. And just as artificial intelligence (AI) invokes a range of responses and arguments now, so did the prospect of electrical life – and Shelley’s novel – then.
The science behind Frankenstein reminds us that current debates have a long history – and that in many ways the terms of our debates now are determined by it. It was during the 19th century that people started thinking about the future as a different country, made out of science and technology. Novels such as Frankenstein, in which authors made their future out of the ingredients of their present, were an important element in that new way of thinking about tomorrow.
Thinking about the science that made Frankenstein seem so real in 1818 might help us consider more carefully the ways we think now about the possibilities – and the dangers – of our present futures.
What drives police violence in Ghana, and what can be done about it
November 1, 2018
Author: Justice Tankebe, Lecturer in Criminology, University of Cambridge
Disclosure statement: Justice Tankebe is affiliated with the African Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research. Some of his research outside Africa has been funded by the British Academy and the European Union.
Partners: University of Cambridge provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Student protests in Ghana resulted in the temporary closure of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. The cause: police use of force in the arrest of students following a vigil to protest the possibility of all-male halls becoming mixed. The Conversation Africa’s Moina Spooner spoke to Justice Tankebe about Ghana’s police service, and their use of force.
Does Ghana have a professional police force? What is their reputation? Is it justified?
To say a police service is professional is to claim that there’s a code of ethics that governs them, there are credible structures of accountability and that these ensure their integrity in delivering a certain quality of service to the public. These features remain undeveloped in Ghana’s police force.
The police’s reputation is it intimidates, is violent, corrupt and that it treats civilians unfairly. Earlier this year there were reports of police officers brutalising citizens without provocation. This included a video of a woman and her toddler being beaten in Accra. Police are also accused of being trigger-happy. In one incident police killed seven young men that they claimed were robbers.
This type of violence happens for a couple of reasons. I conducted two studies of Ghanaian police officers. The first showed that most police officers supported the use of force for a range of reasons. Including; they didn’t have strong bonds with the service and the rules about when and how to use force don’t have legitimacy in their eyes, so they disregard them. This lack of legitimacy was put down to the fact that there are high levels of corruption in the police force.
My second study revealed that officers were treated badly by their supervisors. The result is that officers take their frustrations out on civilians and that the supervisors lose credibility in encouraging good behaviour. Improving police treatment of civilians therefore requires paying attention to the moral climate within police departments in Ghana.
To address the problems there needs to be a proper diagnosis. This isn’t being done. Ghana’s police managers believe the issues can be traced to problems with individual rogue officers. For example, the national police chief, Asante Appeatu, said that: we must fire the bad apples because they are dangerous.
But the problems facing Ghana’s police are systemic. There are conditions within the police service – like poor supervision, poor training, and unfair treatment of lower-ranked officers – that make misconduct more likely to happen. Focusing on individual officers diverts attention from these conditions and it also means police managers can avoid responsibility for the problems.
How does it compare to other countries in the region?
There’s no systematic tracking of police violence in the region which makes country comparisons impossible. My own work has focused on Ghana and, as Director of the African Institute of Crime, Policy and Governance Research, I have started to collate cases of police violence in Ghana. With time this will be extended to other countries so that a solid basis for comparison can be made.
Is the government taking steps to address police violence?
Rhetoric about curbing police violence haven’t been matched by concrete action or strategy. The government’s approach is reactive, responding to public pressure to investigate instances of police violence. There are no efforts to delve into the broader issues and to develop national standards.
If this type of impunity persists, the rule of law loses credibility and police become part of the problem rather than the solution. Unless government takes steps to address police violence, the situation is bound to worsen.
There are a few things that can be done.
Firstly, there needs to be independent and credible oversight institutions that can investigate serious cases of police violence and other forms of misconduct. For instance in England and Wales, the independent office for police conduct investigates misconduct by individual officers while the inspectorates of criminal justice regularly inspects police forces with the aim of improving policing and ensuring public safety. Ghana needs similar institutional arrangements.
Ghana’s police also need to develop a strategy for dealing with public disorder. This should guide the training of officers on how best to handle public order so that they can manage situations, like the one at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology campus, discretely. It was clear from the way the police behaved that they reacted impulsively, escalating tensions. Policy direction and regular training will help avert unnecessary violence.
Thirdly, part of the problem with the police in Ghana is that they confuse legality with legitimacy. They believe that just because their orders are lawful, they are legitimate and deserve public compliance. This mindset means they pay only lip-service to the hard work of understanding and engaging with local communities, taking complaints seriously, improving treatment of civilians, and holding officers to account.
Finally, police legitimacy needs to be part of a strategy. Unless police officers command legitimacy –- that is, they are perceived to be effective, to act lawfully, and to treat civilians fairly –- violence will remain a stable feature of their interactions with civilians. The strategy should involve training which puts more emphasis on building better relationships with civilians through fair treatment – explaining decisions, listening to civilians, being respectful, trustworthy, and being impartial. It could also involve investing in equipment – like body-worn cameras by officers – to track and capture data on interactions with civilians. These significantly reduce the use of force by police.
Kien Choong: Hi, thanks for your article.
I’ve often thought that the world would be a safer place if we collectively divert some military spending to fund training for domestic police.
I would like to assert that a lot of police violence could be avoided through better training, even in the US. (This is just a claim, I am happy to be corrected empirically.)
If my claim is correct, I suggest that the nations collectively agree to cap their military expenditure to (say) no more than 3% of GDP, while committing to spend (say) at least 1% of GDP on police training.
Some of that spend on police training could be usefully applied to training the police forces of countries with weak police forces.
Just a suggestion!