Cook: Why not an orange guillotine?

Cook: Why not an orange guillotine?

April 22nd, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

The electric chair?

Too tame.

Too merciful.

If Tennessee legislators really want to kill inmates on death row, they should skip right past the electric chair -- which they reinstated as a viable means of execution in a bill passed last week -- and get down and dirty serious about their killing. Go Full Monty with it.

No more lethal injection.

It's too humane.

Plus, the drugs used in such executions are in short supply, prompting our legislators to give the nod -- like calling for a reliever out of the bullpen -- for some other method of execution in order to keep the game going.

Bring in the electric chair!

A little trivia: Did you know our state's electric chair has a nickname? It's called "Old Sparky," which is not only profoundly lame as far as nicknames go, but also begs the question: Why do we feel the need to nickname our instruments of death? Is it so we can feel better about them?

Did the Romans nickname their crucifixes? Old Woody? Caesar Splinter?

"A current of 2,640 volts is used to electrocute an inmate," writes Kathleen Merrill in the Jackson Sun. "It takes 2 minutes and 40 seconds to complete a cycle. If the inmate is not killed on the first cycle, the current is applied again."

Too gentle.

Bring back the firing squad. Blindfold the prisoner, dangle a droopy cigarette from his mouth, and then let a group 12 professional marksmen Swiss cheese him to death.

There's always poison gas. In the 1920s, Nevada pumped cyanide gas into a prisoner's cell while he slept.

"This proved impossible, and the gas chamber was constructed," according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Such ingenuity!

We could always let the prisoner choose his own method of death. Then again, death row is not the most pro-choice of places. In 2007, Philip Workman was executed at Nashville's Riverbend Maximum Security Prison for killing a Memphis police officer years before. When prison officials asked Workman what he wanted for his last meal, he asked that they deliver a vegetarian pizza on his behalf to a local homeless shelter.

"But prison officials refused to honor his request, saying that they do not donate to charities," CNN reported.

Of course not. How unreasonable. No one expects them to be able to fix food and execute people at the same time. They're not Sicilian.

I think the time is ripe for the return of the public hanging. Find some huge field and construct a giant gallows -- using locally harvested wood, of course -- and add in some vendors, a line of Porto-lets and several stadium-like video screens.

Charge $50 a head -- (Hey! Let's not forget about beheadings!) -- and make the execution public. Sell 10,000 tickets. If folks can't make the drive, give them an On Demand option. Stream it live. The state could make half-a-mil off pay-per-view alone.

Put your state-sponsored killing on display. Don't hide your light under a bushel, Tennessee lawmakers. Let the whole world see. Right?


By reintroducing the electric chair, our state legislators have -- as is their custom -- made a huge mistake. They've unwittingly backed themselves into a corner. Not only will the electric chair initiate a flood of cruel-and-unusual-punishment lawsuits, it puts state-sponsored killing square in the bright lights, right in the marquee of our public consciousness.

Lethal injection was easy on the eyes, which means it was easy on our conscience. Killing someone through lethal injection looks not unlike presurgery anesthesia. We the people aren't that bothered by that.

The electric chair? It's like riding lightning. You can't hide behind it, pretending to be humane and democratic. We can't condemn beheadings in Saudi Arabia but not the electric chair in Nashville.

So to reintroduce the electric chair is to make an ethical statement: If we are willing to electrocute someone, we ought to also be willing to burn them at the stake. Or drown them. Or quarter them with walking horses. Or make public their execution.

Because killing is killing is killing. Lethal injection has disguised this from us.

The electric chair cannot.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.