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Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America

NCJ Number
John D. Bessler
Date Published
329 pages
This book presents a comprehensive history of executions in the United States from colonial days to the present, with attention to the evolution of restrictions on the public's viewing of executions.
Framing the analysis within the context of the politics of capital punishment and the role of the media in the death penalty debate, the book begins by examining the transition from crowded public hangings in town squares to private executions behind prison walls. The author then explores the origins and legislative rationales that led to statutory provisions which mandate private, nighttime executions. Under this regimen, executions in the United States are hidden from public view. Laws restrict the number of witnesses and journalists present, and television cameras are forbidden in prison execution chambers. Capital punishment is cloaked in added secrecy because executions are often administered in the middle of the night. Against this historical background, the book reviews changing public opinions about capital punishment, analyzes recent relevant court decisions, and considers how politicians manipulate the death penalty as a "get-tough-on-crime" measure. Concluding with a discussion of recent attempts to televise executions, the author addresses the constitutionality of barring cameras and presents both sides of the debate over public access to executions. The author argues that private-execution laws shield Americans from the reality of the death penalty and prevent them from making informed judgements about the morality of capital punishment. Chapter notes and a subject index


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