The slow death of America’s death penalty

Dan Vasquez used to push the lever on the gas chamber, or the “coughing box,” as it was known on death row. As California’s state executioner he stared into the eyes of condemned men while they passed to the next world.

“They try to hold their breath, but it seeps in through the pores,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “It takes seven seconds. The head rolls forward, and then they flatline. One told me ‘Everyone will dance with the grim reaper’.”

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It is 25 years since Mr Vasquez, now retired, poisoned someone with hydrogen cyanide. He is still a supporter of the death penalty. But even he now admits its days are probably numbered.

“Does it stop murders? No. Is it a deterrent? No,” he said. “If the…

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