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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

In 'Apprentice,' Teaching the Fine Art of Execution

Screenshot from "Apprentice" by Junfeng Boo (2016)
"The trick is to place the knot just behind the left ear and above the jaw."

Those instructions on how to carry out a "humane" hanging are given early in the Singaporean film "Apprentice" by Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), the chief executioner at a high-security prison, to his new assistant, Aiman (Fir Rahman). 

Rahim takes enormous pride in his work, which he has been doing for 30 years, and he, at least outwardly, exhibits no qualms about his profession.

When their time comes, he boasts, the death-row prisoners feel no pain because they die instantly. Rahim assures 1 man before he's hanged that he is being sent to "a better place."

The tricky mentor-protege relationship between Rahim and Aiman, who's 28, is the heart of this moderately gripping film, directed by Boo Junfeng, that by its end tells you more than you want to know about this form of capital punishment. 

The 2 appear to bond early, as when Aiman guides Rahim to a store from which he can replenish his dwindling supply of rope. By then, we've learned that Aiman, a polite, handsome Malay, is the son of a killer executed by Rahim years earlier.

A former army officer who was involved in gang violence when he was younger but has since changed his ways, Aiman lives with his older sister Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad), with whom he has a tense relationship. 

The dour Suhaila, who raised her brother almost single-handedly, is about to leave Singapore to marry her Australian fiancee and is critical of her Aiman's new job.

At first "Apprentice" seems to be a basic revenge film in which Aiman stalks the man who killed his father. But it becomes psychologically more complex as it reveals Rahim's buried rage and guilt over his occupation and Aiman's ambivalence when offered the chance to step into his new boss's shoes. 

"Apprentice" largely skirts the issue of capital punishment while letting it be known that most of the other guards don't want the job. Killing a fellow human being is not easy.

Source: New York Times, March 3, 2016

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