Although the death penalty in many countries has since changed such that convicts serve them as life imprisonment rather than being killed as before, the tradition has a rich history and many lingering questions.
In Kenya,there have been no executions carried out since 1982, when Kenya Air Force senior private official Hezekiah Ochuka and Pancras Oteyo Okumu were hanged for treason after trying to overthrow the government of the late President Daniel Moi.
Some of the offences which result in the maximum penalty include murder and attempted murder, treason, oathing for crimes by proscribed criminal outfits, robbery with violence and attempted robbery with violence. Before, it was only a reserve for the convicts of murder offence.
The most common methods of execution include lethal injection, electrocution, lethal gas, firing squad, and hanging. The famous culture has been, before a convict is executed, he or she is given the last meal- food of his choice. But why?
According to Jon Sheldon, a Virginia death penalty lawyer who spoke to BBC, this is as a ritual, where the last meal is intended not to comfort the condemned but to soften for society the harsh fact that a human is about to be killed with the law’s full sanction.
In one of his famous scholarly book titled ‘Theatre of Horror: Crime and Punishment’, German historian Richard van Dulmen says that the ritual has its roots in common superstition that accepting a free meal meant one had no hard feelings against the hangman, the judge and all those who played a part in his conviction.
Thus, there is a belief that if a convict takes a meal of his choice, he has forgiven the hangman, judge, and all the witnesses who take part in sending him back to the creator and his spirit won’t haunt the enforcers of the law.
One of the most famous in history is that of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. which took place on Saturday, 30 December 2006.
He was sentenced to death by hanging, after being convicted of crimes against humanity by the Iraqi Special Tribunal for the murder of 148 Iraqi Shit’es in the town of Dujail in 1982, in retaliation for an assassination attempt against him.
In an interview with The Daily Nation, Kenya’s last hangman the late Kirugumi wa Wanjuki recalled the most memorable wish of a prisoner before being hanged as that of the case of Grace Karisa, who had been sentenced to death with John, her boyfriend.
They had murdered a police inspector, after a love affair went South. When asked of their last wishes before execution, Grace proposed that they be allowed to make love for the last time.