The Last Executioner
The Last Executioner: Memoirs of Thailand’s Last Prison Executioner by Chavoret Jaruboon, with Nicola Pierce (Maverick House 2006).
Beheading was outlawed in 1934, and Thailand changed its method of capital punishment to death by machine gun.
Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on the appointed day, a condemned prisoner is escorted from his cell (all but three have been men) to a diamond-shaped gazebo on the grounds of Bang Kwang Prison, north of Bangkok. The prisoner, in leg irons, is seated at a table decorated with flowers, candles and incense.
The prisoner is photographed and fingerprinted. A prison official reads the execution order – occasionally the first time a prisoner is informed of his imminent death -- and requests that the prisoner sign it. The prisoner is given a piece of paper and a pencil and allowed to write a statement, will or letter. The prisoner is provided a final meal, although few eat it. If the prisoner requests a cigarette, the guards will usually provide one. A Buddhist abbot performs last rites and allows the prisoner to request forgiveness; a Muslim prisoner will wash his feet, face and hands and say a prayer. No visits with family or friends are allowed.
The prisoner is placed on a chair in a cart, which is wheeled from the gazebo to a small building called the Execution Room. A sign above the entrance reads “The Place To End All Sorrow.” For years, a statue of Yammaban – a Thai spirit that punishes the wicked – stood near the entrance.
The prisoner is blindfolded and led to a large wooden cross. With the prisoner facing the cross, his torso and waist are tied to it. The prisoner’s arms are pulled together at face level, around the vertical beam of the cross, into a praying position. Flowers are placed between the prisoner’s hands, as a final request for forgiveness. The cross has no religious significance; it is simply the most practical shape on which to suspend the prisoner.
A square white canvas held in a large green wooden frame is placed behind the prisoner. The canvas has a square hole which acts as the target, and a guard lines up the hole with the prisoner’s heart.
A guard serving as the gun adjuster aims a submachine gun, mounted on a stand, directly at the square target and, therefore, at the prisoner’s heart. Originally, the prison used a Bergmann MP 34, which was replaced in 1977 with a variant of the Heckler & Koch MP5.
Once the firearm is aligned, the gun adjuster inserts 15 rounds of nine-millimeter ammunition (previously inspected for cracks or other imperfections) into the freshly cleaned gun. The executioner takes his position behind the gun and unlocks it. The leader of the execution team stands on a short pedestal to the side, holding a red flag in the air. The scene at this moment, seconds before execution, is captured in this photograph of a diorama at the Thailand Corrections Museum.
When the leader of the execution team determines that all procedures have been followed, he lowers the flag. The executioner salutes the prisoner and releases one shot, which directs five to twelve bullets at the square target, through the prisoner’s back and into his heart.
A condemned member of the Thai royal family has the option of being beaten to death with a sweet-smelling stick.
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Thailand abandoned capital punishment by machine gun in 2003 and replaced it with lethal injection. Thus, Chavoret Jaruboon, a guard at Bang Kwang, was the last person in the country to single-handedly execute prisoners with a gun. The Last Executioner, from which the above details are derived, is his autobiography.
Chavoret (Thais are traditionally referred to by their first name.) executed 53 men and two women during his 19 years as one of his country’s executioners. Prior to his appointment in 1984, Chavoret had assisted in dozens of executions, often escorting the prisoners or adjusting the gun. Death was a part of his business.
Chavoret emphasizes that Thailand only executes a few people per year on average and that years could elapse between executions. Furthermore, the death penalty tended to be reserved for especially brutal crimes that generated heated publicity. Prisoners in the modern Thai criminal justice system are entitled to a trial, an appeal and (except for narcotics cases) a petition for clemency to the King, many of which are granted.
Chavoret has no qualms about the death penalty now that a judicial process oversees sentencing. Chavoret admits concern about the summary execution orders, promulgated without trials, which were sometimes issued by the military leaders who ruled Thailand prior to 1992.
“I believe there are truly bad people who can never be cured of their desire to do depraved things,” Chavoret states. “I don’t think prison will make them any better than they are, and yes, I believe this type of person deserves to die.”
The book is narrow in scope. It is only about Chavoret and his job. Larger issues like the efficacy of capital punishment or Thai social customs are only mentioned in passing. The book is neither well nor poorly written; it is evidence.
The Last Executioner is a statement by a 58-year-old man about his life's work. It is not too far removed from the statements that condemned prisoners can write in pencil while sitting at a table with flowers, candles and incense, preparing for one final journey.