NewsNation: Prof. Deborah Denno Explains History and Efficacy of Firing Squad Executions


Fordham Law Professor Deborah Denno, criminal law and death penalty expert, told NewsNation that executions by firing squad are not as grisly as people might think.

“Heart deaths, according to an experiment that was done in Utah in 1938, should occur within a minute, or under a minute, which is going faster than any other method of execution currently,” she said.

Denno said cases of lethal injection that didn’t go as planned have resulted in much more suffering.

“In the case of Rommel Broom in Ohio, he actually survived over two hours at a lethal injection execution. They were poking him all over his body to try to kill him,” she explained. “It was basically a slow slaughter, and they never succeeded, but he was in an enormous amount of pain.”

Denno explains that modern firing squads would work in a specific way, with an inmate strapped to a chair and surrounded by sandbags to prevent ricocheting bullets. Five shooters would be shooting from behind a wall through a small opening. Prisoners would be shot in the chest, with the shooters aiming for the heart.

“When you think of the individuals who are doing this, they’re experts,” Denno said. “Usually, they choose people who might be former police officers, somebody who’s very familiar with shooting, and they put a target on the inmate’s heart.”

“Historically, you would see who the executioner is,” she explained. “The inmate would be tied to a chair, and it would be a public execution.”

That’s no longer necessary, she said, because modern executions allow the identity of executioners to be kept secret unless they choose to disclose their involvement.

Firing squads could also make it easier to find executioners, Denno said, because people trained to be that skilled with firearms have likely also been trained to kill and are more emotionally prepared to take on the role.

For jurors, however, the mental images conjured up by the words “firing squad” may influence whether they think Kohberger should get the death penalty or life without parole.

“If they thought that, if they gave Brian Kohberger the death penalty, he was going to get the firing squad, they may be horrified by something like that, or they may think that that’s well-deserved,” Denno said. “The firing squad does not have a very good reputation in this country.”

Read “Could Kohberger be spared death penalty since Idaho adopted firing squads?” in NewsNation.


Comments are closed.