Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Champion Book Review: The Executioner's Toll, 2010

Book Review: The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words And Executions of 46 Persons in The United States
By Gregory M. Rosatelli
The Champion Magazine
The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words And Executions of 46 Persons in The United States
By Matthew T. Mangino
McFarland & Company (2014)

             Matthew T. Mangino’s book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 reminds us of what Justice Harry

Blackmun famously said in 1994: “I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” Many

writers, like Mangino and Evan J. Mandery in A Wild Justice, continue to tinker with the death


             However, none of the recent tinkering is like Mangino’s. As a former prosecutor, Mangino made

every effort to remain unbiased as he examined every execution, 46 to be exact, in 2010. He did not

cherry-pick the “good” cases or the “bad” cases. Mangino meticulously researched each execution

and included 11 pages of endnotes. The stories of each execution are both poignant and unbelievable.

             Interwoven with the stories of mayhem and debauchery is an active practitioners insight into courtroom practice and a concise history of the U.S. Supreme Court’s treatment of the death penalty.

             The book may be a bit too graphic at times, though not necessarily the gratuitous violence we’ve come to expect from slasher movies, but more than one might care to read in a couple settings.

            Mandrey’s book thoroughly examined the back story among the justices with regard to the decision in Furman v. Georgia which struck down the death penalty in 1972.  Mandrey suggested that two of opinion’s principle supporters, Justice Potter Stewart and Justice Byron White, believed “the problem was that the death penalty wasn’t used often enough to serve any societal purpose.”

            Mangino suggests something similar.  He suggested that the death penalty today maybe arbitrary in the way that it is carried out, in much the same way the death penalty was arbitrary in the way it was imposed in 1972.

             This book is timely in that it examines the evolution of lethal injection.  The efficacy of lethal injection has been thoroughly examined in light of a series of recent “botched” executions.  Ohio has lead the way in the evolving methods of lethal injection.  Ohio was, next to Texas, the most prolific state for executions in 2010.  Ohio carried out eight executions, the only state north of the Mason-Dixon line to carry out an execution.

            Ohio was the first state to move to a single drug execution protocol, from the traditional three-drug protocol.  Ohio was the first state to use pentobarbital as a single execution drug. Ohio’s manic approach to state sponsored death is now under scrutiny. Ohio recently moved to a two-drug protocol which was utilized during a “botched” execution in January of 2014.

            As the title of Mangino’s book suggests he examined “The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States.” Some of the final statements are not easily forgotten.

Jeffrey Landrigan was executed in Arizona. He was a native of Oklahoma.  The state lives and breaths OU football with the chant “Boomer Sooner.”  Mangino describes Landrigan’s final words like this, “In a strong voice with a heavy Oklahoma accent, Landrigan's last words were, ‘Well, I'd like to say thank you to my family for being here and all my friends, and Boomer Sooner.’"

There are cases described in “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” that should cause pause for readers regardless of their position with regard to the death penalty. 

The final execution chronicled by Mangino cries-out for the death penalty.  John David Duty was in an Oklahoma prison for murder.  He didn’t want to spend his life in prison so he decided he would have the state end his life.  He strangled his cellmate and wrote a taunting letter to the DA asking for the death penalty or he would kill again, this time a staff member.

On the other hand, Martin Grossman was executed for the murder of a Florida game warden.  Grossman did not plan to kill anyone.  He was on probation and was out shooting a gun with a friend when he was confronted by the game warden.  He didn’t want to get his probation violated and end up in jail.  He attacked the game warden and ended up killing her.

Mangino’s book also provides a glimpse into an area that is generating a lot of death penalty news.  A federal judge and a number of state legislatures are looking at alternatives to lethal injection for purposes of execution.  In 2010, there was an execution in Utah by firing squad and in Virginia by electrocution.  Mangino examines both, and provides an unbiased insight into the “machinery of death.”

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