The Execution Process

Historically, there has been an ongoing debate about the use of death as a penalty for crimes. Execution is the process of applying this penalty. It has taken many forms and has involved extensive symbolism, ceremony, and ritual, which have been applied to humans as well as animals and inanimate objects.

Originally, the purpose of punishment was to extract confessions or to divine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Thus, boiling in oil, submerging in water, or placing burning coals in the hands of those suspected of offenses were intended to provide a “sign.” The innocent were said to experience no negative effects from these actions, whereas the guilty died as a result—thus, confirming their guilt.

As the history of punishment evolved toward the actual ...

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