Jerry Givens points through an A4 sheet of paper with the faces of dead men on it. It looks like an old school yearbook with dates of their deaths underneath. “I killed him. And then I killed him. Finished him, and finished him too,” Jerry Givens moves from one to the next with a certain matter-of-fact resignation.
From 1982 to 1999 he was in charge of executions in the US state of Virginia. During that time, Givens killed a staggering 11 per cent of all the people put to death in America. More than 14,000 were killed before 1972 when the death penalty was declared unconstitutional however, since 1976, when the Supreme Court resurrected capital punishment, more than 1260 have been put to death. And what of those who were innocent?
There appear to have been at least 18 people wrongfully executed in the United States alone. That’s to say nothing of those whose cases involved ‘such overwhelming doubt of guilt that the only rational inference to be drawn from reading them together as a collection is that most, if not all, of the defendants were innocent‘.
People like Troy Davis, who was lethally injected last year despite significant doubt about his guilt.
17 of the 289 people who were exonerated on DNA evidence since 1989 served time on death row.
It was these figures that eventually made Jerry Givens wonder about the almost two decades he spent extinguishing the lives of convicted criminals. Mamamia sat down with Mr Givens this week:
Q: You were the Chief Executioner for Virginia for 17 years. How does someone get a job like that?
A: Well, I was appointed. I was asked would I do it and I took the responsibility. But at that particular time we didn’t have no one on death row, so … it wasn’t a hard to make a choice.
Q: How do they say it? Do they say ‘oh, we need you to be on call to kill some people’?
A: I think within the two year period I had built a reputation of being very responsible. I don’t think many people want to do it. There’s no extra pay in it. If there was some extra pay in it they’d probably post it on the bulletin board. You just get your normal pay and a tap on the shoulder.
Q: I want to know what that first time was like, what it required of you in the minutiae and mentally?
A: Well the first case was an ex-police officer by the name of Frank Coppola. He’d bashed a woman’s head on the floor and killed her. Anyway, Frank had dropped all his appeals and told his lawyer he didn’t want to fight his case any longer, that he wanted to be executed. And this was gonna be my first one, I’d never really even witnessed one at this point. And for some of the people that was workin’ in corrections at the time it was gonna be our first one too.