Recording the Pain of Others: Lethal Injection's Visibility Problem

167 Univ. Penn. L. Rev. Online 62 (2018)

16 Pages Posted: 31 May 2019 Last revised: 20 Jun 2021

Date Written: April 26, 2019


In July 2011, Georgia executed Andrew DeYoung for murdering his parents and sister. Pursuant to a motion to preserve evidence brought by counsel for Gregory Walker, another man on Georgia’s Death Row, DeYoung’s execution produced the only existing video of a lethal injection in the United States, which remains under seal in a Georgia courthouse. This effort to record an execution reverses the historical trend of making executions less visible by bringing them inside prison walls and limiting eyewitnesses. Unlike similar cases, the successful motion to preserve DeYoung’s execution and autopsy on video did not litigate the public’s right to see executions, but instead argued that visual evidence of a botched execution was necessary to support another condemned man’s Eighth Amendment claim. This project evaluates this strategy’s assumption that video representation is less mediated and thus more effective and accurate as evidence than traditional eyewitness and expert testimony. This evaluation proceeds by examining the rhetorical strategies used in death penalty abolition litigation and judicial opinions that have, in turn, upheld and struck down methods of capital punishment. Part I examines lethal injection’s “invisibility problem” and argues that this problem stems from secrecy surrounding state execution protocols and the overwhelming metaphor of healing that lethal injection’s “weapons” project. Part II explores a potential solution to this problem — creating visual records of lethal injections — using the litigation surrounding DeYoung’s execution as an example.

Keywords: capital punishment, death penalty, lethal injection

Suggested Citation

Hammock Jones, Christen, Recording the Pain of Others: Lethal Injection's Visibility Problem (April 26, 2019). 167 Univ. Penn. L. Rev. Online 62 (2018), Available at SSRN:

Christen Hammock Jones (Contact Author)

Columbia University Law School ( email )

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