Gruesome Spectacles Revisited: News Coverage of Botched Lethal Injections Since 2010

  •  Haojun Zhuang    
  •  Austin D. Sarat    


This research is a continuation of the work done by one of the authors (Austin Sarat) in Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty. That book examined newspaper coverage of botched executions, from hangings, the electric chair, and the gas chamber firing to the early usage of lethal injection. It covered the period 1890 to 2010 and paid particular attention to changes in newspapers’ reporting of botched executions. It argued that the treatment of botched executions as “mishaps” rather than injustices blunted botched executions’ impact on the death penalty abolitionist movement. In this paper, we discuss newspaper coverage of botched lethal injections since 2010, looking closely at nine such executions identified by the Death Penalty Information Center website. Recent news reporting has mainly confirmed Sarat’s findings. However, a new component of the coverage of botched executions— interviews with the victims’ families— further dampens the impact of botched executions on support for the abolition of the death penalty.

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