Galen Beebe is a writer and editor at the Bello Collective, a publisher of podcast criticism, playlists, and interviews; and co-founder of Etc. Gallery, a home for web-, print-, and experience-based narrative experiments. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Full Stop, and elsewhere.
Approaches to capital punishment vary widely from country to country, state to state, and year to year. There was a period in the 1960s and ’70s when the death penalty was banned in the United States, after which many states rewrote their laws and began executing inmates again. Currently, the death penalty is legal in 31 U.S. states, as well as federal and military case, and as of April 2017, there are 2,843 people on death row in the United States.
In 2014, I collaborated on a project that looked at the death penalty in the United States through graphs, maps, and essays. I’ve written about criminal justice-focused podcasts for the Bello Collective and The Atlantic but I wanted this list to focus more specifically on executions—a topic that many never need to consider, but that defines the lives and deaths of many others.
I chose episodes that explore the moral and legal implications of the death penalty, and that approach the topic through both the advocate and the abolitionist lens. I hope these episodes spark interesting conversations.
[Content Waring (CW): These episodes include descriptions of violence, including descriptions of executions.]
There are issues around whether it can be carried out humanely, and if it is possible to know if a person is truly guilty.
Podcast Playlist on the Death Penalty
*Note: You can always get the latest PBC playlist on the RadioPublic app
Long Haul: Death Row Guards
(Apple Podcasts // 16 minutes, April 2013)
Guards from Louisiana’s Angola Prison and Alabama’s Holman Prison talk about their work on death row and the complicated reality of witnessing an execution in 1993, when the electric chair was the primary method.
More Perfect: Cruel and Unusual
(Apple Podcasts | Google Play // 40 minutes, June 2016)
The 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes three very important words: “cruel and unusual.” This episode explores the lethal injection cocktail used in U.S. executions — where do the drugs come from, are they legal, and what is the most humane way of ending a person’s life?
Sky News Radio – Special Reports: Another Dead Man Walking (Part 1 and Part 2)
(Part 1: Apple Podcasts | Google Play // Part 2: Apple Podcasts | Google Play //30 minutes)
In 1998, Richard Glossip was convicted of hiring someone to murder his boss. Although he insisted he had nothing to do with the crime, and everyone agreed that he did not actually commit the murder, Glossip was sentenced to death in Oklahoma. The first parts of this series follow Glossip’s case to the Supreme Court.
Radio Diaries: Willie McGee and the Traveling Electric Chair
(Apple Podcasts | Google Play // 23 minutes, August 2017
In 1945, Willie McGee, a black man, was convicted of raping a white woman. McGee claimed the sex was consensual, but an all-white jury found him guilty in three minutes, and in 1951, he was put to death in Mississippi’s traveling electric chair. In this episode, McGee’s granddaughter, Bridgette McGee, travels to Mississippi to find out what really happened.
(Supplemental Listening) Everything is Stories: These Executions
(Apple Podcasts | Google Play // 47 minutes, December 2015)
Michelle Lyons has witnessed over 270 executions since she began reporting for The Huntsville Item, the newspaper in the town where Texas’s executions are carried out, at age 22. In this episode, Lyons shares her experience and her opinion on the role of the press in reporting on executions. [CW: This episode contains more detailed descriptions of executions.]
Conversation Starters about the Death Penalty Podcast Playlist
- How much did you know about the death penalty before listening to these episodes?
- What did you learn from these episodes? Which moments surprised you?
- Is the death penalty legal where you live? How do you feel about that?
- Many who argue for the death penalty claim that execution is a fair punishment for the crimes committed, but Richard Glossip and Willie McGee both insisted they were innocent. Do you think it’s possible to be certain that innocent people aren’t executed?
- Are you comfortable with some means of executing people but not others? Which ones? Why do you think that is?
- Do you think humane execution is possible?
- What do you think the role of the media is in covering executions? How much access should the media have?
- Some private companies refuse to allow their drugs to be used for lethal injections, leading states to use non-FDA approved drugs from compounding pharmacies. Who do you think should regulate the drugs used in lethal injections?
- The current legal arguments around the death penalty in the United States largely focus on the means of execution, rather than the legality of ending a person’s life. Do you think this is the right focus? If not, why?
- If you don’t live in the United States, what do you think of the U.S.’s approach to the death penalty?
DJ RuggedAngel’s Music Playlist
Take a break from listening to podcasts, and get your groove on with some music. Our very own DJ RuggedAngel put together this “Death Penalty” music playlist especially for PBC.