Watching people die

Carey Dean Moore, who killed a cabdriver in 1979, was put to death today, the first lethal injection in Nebraska’s history using a concoction of the sedative diazepam, muscle relaxant cisatracurium, potassium chloride and fentanyl.

The execution was carried out with the “professionalism, respect for the process and dignity for all involved,” the corrections commissioner said.

There’s plenty of debate to be had about the use of the death penalty that is unlikely to tread on new ground, so I won’t bother.

It’s the theater of executions that seems particularly gruesome in which reporters who are invited to watch, come out later and tell us things we’re not really sure we want to know.

We learned he turned purple just before a curtain was lowered so nobody could see what happened next.

It feels like an invastion that defies the promise of dignity. And yet, we watch. It’s the very essence of conflict.

Why would people get up to go to work to watch people die?

We got an answer to that question just a few weeks ago when Michael Graczyk retired from the Associated Press in Texas, where he worked for 46 years, witnessing 400 executions, perhaps more than any person since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976.

He enjoys the work, he told The Guardian.

“Even if you’re a local, community newspaper reporter – car wrecks, there’s carnage on the highway, homicide scenes or fires, whatever. Watching someone getting an injection and go to sleep doesn’t compare to that other than the fact that it’s happening before you.”

“It has given me a greater appreciation for life,” he said. “You get a real sense of life and how fast it can be taken.”

But he has no emotional attachment to the people he watches die.

“They’re not my loved ones, either the victims or the inmates. I think that’s part of the process that makes it easier for me,” he said.

Except for one. Jonathan Nobles sang Silent Night as he was killed, even though it was nowhere near the season.

Christmas has never been the same for Graczyk, he says.