There are fourteen witnesses at the execution, including Homer Cribus and Klaus and Marjorie Detterick—although, like Hal Moores, Deputy McGee is absent. As John and the guards walk toward the chair, Marjorie spits on the platform and insults John, wishing him to die and suffer. John tells Brutal, who is waiting on the platform, that he can feel the hatred coming from the crowd, but Brutal reassures him that he and the other guards do not hate him. However, as Marjorie Detterick keeps on screaming at him, Coffey begins to cry again. Harry, too, sheds a few tears.
Deputy McGee’s absence at the execution appears particularly cowardly in light of the fact that he is directly responsible for telling Paul that Coffey would never get a second trial. Mrs. Detterick proves unnecessarily cruel, adding humiliation to the pain that the condemned man is about to suffer.
When John sits down in the chair, Paul and Harry attach his ankles, Brutal attaches his wrists, and calls “Roll on one.” While Marjorie Detterick is screaming insults, her husband is strikingly calm and quiet, and Paul is not surprised to learn that Klaus died of a stroke one month later. While Brutal gives his official speech, he keeps his hand on John’s shoulder, which is not part of ordinary protocol but seems to comfort Coffey. Brutal asks Coffey if he has anything to say and Coffey says he is sorry for what he is, after which Mrs. Detterick screams that he should be.
In contrast to Mrs. Detterick’s virulence, the guards aim to reassure Coffey and make his last moments as tolerable as they can. Just as Coffey’s words when the search party found him were interpreted as a confession of his guilt, his sadness about the heavy burden of healing and suffering he has to bear is interpreted as an admission of his perversity. The public, it appears, will never be able to discover Coffey’s true goodness.
When Coffey turns toward Paul, Paul sees no resignation or peace in his eyes, but rather incomprehension, fear, and misery. Brutal comes forward with the mask but John, who is terrified of the dark, begs him not to put it on and Paul tells Brutal to obey John’s wish. Brutal then places the wet sponge on John’s head and Dean secures the straps on his chest. Paul recounts that Dean later asked to be transferred out of E block and was stabbed in the throat by an inmate within months—an ironic end, since Paul and the guards had taken such pains to protect him during their illegal expedition with John Coffey. Paul reflects on the folly of executing men in cold blood and, in particular, on the horrific method of the electric chair.
While Coffey had said earlier that he was tired of the suffering and injustice he experienced on Earth, Paul is saddened to see that, despite his God-given powers, Coffey behaves like any other human being and does not accept his death with passive resignation. Instead, Coffey’s suffering inspires Paul to denounce the immorality of capital punishment. It is absurd, Paul implies, to believe that humans have the authority to judge each other in such an extreme way.
Brutal then calls “Roll on two” and the electric current is so strong that the light bulbs explode, which makes Marjorie Detterick faint. Paul mentions she died eighteen years later in a trolley-car accident. For a second, John opens his eyes and Paul is the last thing he sees before he dies. Paul doubts that the electric chair is painless, as electric chair proponents claim, but confirms that at least Coffey’s execution was quick.
An important reason behind Paul’s rejection of the electric chair is the suffering it inflicts. Not only is the moment of electrocution not painless, but the fear and anguish that characterize the time leading up to inmates’ death is also difficult to ignore—as Paul knows from being a firsthand spectator. In this light, it would appear that no method of capital punishment can ever be considered painless.