An oral history of American capital punishment

March 31, 2010
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This week’s edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education reviews Robert K. Elder’s Last Words of the Executed—an oral history of American capital punishment, as heard from the gallows, the chair, and the gurney.
The Chronicle‘s Kacie Glenn begins her article:

In Last Words of the Executed, Robert K. Elder presents a collection of final statements delivered by people about to be put to death in America, from the prisoners in Salem, Mass., who were hung in 1692 for practicing witchcraft, to modern serial killers like John Wayne Gacy and Aileen Wuornos.
Elder, an adjunct lecturer in journalism at Northwestern University, searched newspapers, prison archives, and other sources. He refrains from advocating for or against capital punishment, instead noting patterns and shifts in the tenor of prisoners’ last words. For example, when executions stopped being held before large crowds, prisoners became less likely to orate and more likely to speak directly to victims’ families.

Continue reading at the Chronicle website.

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