A Danish law student who wants to challenge views about the death penalty is
to exhibit the ashes of an executed American murderer in an hour-glass.
University of Copenhagen Law Student Martin Martensen-Larsen has previously
made headlines for his attitudes to the death penalty by selling five
tickets to the Texas execution of another American, Travis Runnels.
“I take my projects very seriously. I ask questions that I feel are
essential,” Martensen-Larsen says, adding: “I try to question the death
penalty on its own terms”.
“The fact that I have to use some methods that may seem provocative, is
unavoidable. But that is not my goal,” he says, adding he is aware that his
methods may seem offensive to some.
Martensen-Larsen says his exhibit is primarily designed to question how long
it takes to forgive.
“You often hear relatives of victims say after an execution that the person
executed will end in hell, or that he is a monster or beast. But the death
penalty is designed to be closure for the relatives and the rest of society.
When does forgiveness come?” he says.
The hour-glass envisaged in the exhibit contains the ashes of Karl Eugene
Chamberlain, 38, who was executed by lethal injection in Texas on June 11,
2008 for the 1991 rape and murder of a neighbour, 29-year-old Felecia
Although Martensen-Larsen is prepared for strong reactions to his exhibit, he
does not accept that the project is indecent.
“I don’t’ think it is any more absurd or objectionable than what happens on
the gurney. I ask some questions about things that people don’t think
about,” Martensen-Larsen says, adding that the main problem is the number of
executions in the United States.
“There are some 50 executions each year in the United States. So if people
think that this is an objectionable project, they should really be angry all
year round because of the many executions,” Martensen-Larsen says.
The exhibition will initially only be shown in Denmark, which does not have
the death penalty. Nonetheless, Martensen-Larsen says the exhibit is
“When for example Anders Breivik appears, there is suddenly a debate about
whether the death penalty should be reintroduced. There was also a debate
about it when Peter Lundin (Ed: who killed four people) was sentenced…I want
to show the Danes that when you are tempted to reintroduce it, there are
some questions that haven’t been thought through,” he says.
“As a law student I find it interesting to see how the extreme consequences of
punishment and guilt have been transferred to the elimination of a person,”
The exhibit is expected to be ready sometime this month, but it is not yet
clear where it is to be shown.
The Chamberlain family has given its permission for the exhibition.
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