The first recorded instances of the death penalty date back to the Code of Hammurabi in Babylon, which recorded the death penalty for 25 separate crimes. It was also used in Draco's code and the Roman Twelve Tables. Criminals were killed by crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, or impalement.

In the 10th Century AD, hanging became the most common method of execution, particularly in Britain. In other parts of Europe, the common methods of execution evolved to boiling, burning at the stake, beheading, and drawing and quartering.

America's capital punishment was largely influenced by Britain. The first recorded execution was that of Captain George Kendall for being a spy for Spain. Around the 19th century, America's states began to reduce the number of capital crimes and built state penitentiaries instead.



Hanging used to be the primary method of execution until the 1890s in the US. It is still used in Delaware and Washington today, but the last hanging to take place was January 1996.

The inmate is weighed the day before the execution and a rehearsal is done using a sandbag. This is to determine the length of the "drop" that will ensure a quick death. The rope should be 3/4 inch to 1 1/4 inch and must be boiled and stretched. The knot is to be lubricated with wax or soap.

Before the execution, the prisoner's hands and legs are secured, the prisoner is blindfolded, and the noose placed behind the prisoner's neck with the knot behind the left ear.

The execution takes place when the trap-door is opened and the prisoner falls through.


This method is used in Utah and Oklahoma if the lethal injection cannot be performed.

The inmate is bound to a chair with leather straps across his/her waist and head in front of an oval-shaped canvas wall. A black hood is pulled over the inmate's head and a circular white cloth is pinned to the inmate's heart by a doctor.

5 shooters are placed 20 feet away armed with .30 caliber rifles loaded with single grounds. One of the shooters is given blank rounds.


New York first built the electric chair in 1888 to seek a more human method of execution. It remains a choice for inmates or an option if the lethal injection cannot be performed.

The prisoner is shaved and strapped to a chair with belts across his or her chest, groin, legs, and arms. A metal skullcap-shaped electrode is attached to the scalp and forehead moistened with saline. The sponge should not be too wet or too dry. Another electrode is moistened with conductive jelly and attached to a portion of the prisoner's leg that has been shaved. The prisoner is also blindfolded.

A jolt between 500 and 2000 volts (30 seconds) is given. The doctors check to see if the heart is still beating and if it is, another volt is administered. The process is repeated until the prisoner is dead.

lethal injection

In 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt the lethal injection. All states today have this method in use.

The prisoner is usually bound to a gurney and a member of the execution team positions heart monitors on his or her skin. Two needles are inserted into usable veins (in the inmate's arms) and long tubes connect the needle through a hole to intravenous drips. The inmate is then injected with sodium thiopental (an anesthetic), and then pavulon (pancuronium bromide) paralyzes the muscle system and stop the inmate's breathing. Potassium chloride is then administered and stops the heart.

gas chamber

The use of cyanide gas was introduced as Nevada sought a more humane way of executing its inmates. Today, five states offer lethal gas as a method of execution, but all five use lethal injection as their primary method.

For this method, the condemned person is strapped to a chair in an airtight chamber. Below the chair is a pail of sulfuric acid. The executioner flips a lever that releases crystals of sodium cyanide into the pail, which causes a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen cyanide gas.

In 2015, Oklahoma adopted the use of nitrogen gas in executions if the lethal injection cannot be performed. It has never been used in an execution.



  • In 96% of states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination (or both)
  • 55.7 % of defendants executed were white
  • 34.4 % of defendants executed were black
  • 8.2% of defendants executed were hispanic
  • Jurors in WA are 3x more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case


  • There were 56 women on death row (as of Dec. 31, 2014)
  • Women are less than 2% of the total death row population
  • 16 women have been executed since 1976


  • The poor are far more likely to receive the death sentence than are wealthy people accused of similar crimes
  • The rate of death sentences decreases as a county's per capital income increases
  1. State of Texas v. Gosch -- Lesley Gosch was accused of the kidnapping and murder of Mrs. Patton and was convicted with largely circumstantial evidence against him. The jury found Gosch a danger to society and sentenced him to die. Defense counsel failed to present mitigating circumstances towards Gosch's sentence.
  2. State of Oklahoma v. McCullah -- John McCullah was sentenced to death for a drug-related kidnap/murder of an auto dealership employee. He was put on Death Row, but on a 10th circuit appeal in 1996, he was resentenced to life in prison.
  3. State of Missouri v. Montgomery -- Lisa Montgomery was given a death sentence for kidnapping and killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett and stealing her unborn baby.
  4. State of Florida v. Troya and Sanchez, Jr. -- Both Latino men were sentenced to death for the murder of two children on a Florida Turnpike. They were also convicted of killing the children's parents and received life sentences for those crimes. The father of the family was presumably killed because of a drug debt.
  5. State of Missouri v. Sinistera -- Sinistera was recommended a death sentence by a jury for his role as a triggerman in the murder of a drug dealer. He was convicted with two co-defendants, all of them Columbian nationals. He died in prison before being executed.
  6. State of Missouri v. Ortiz -- A federal jury in Kansas City recommended a death sentence for Ortiz for the murder of a drug dealer (see case above). Oritz's lawyers sought clemency from President Obama on the grounds that Ortiz was intellectually disabled and he did not physically commit the murder. President Obama commuted his death sentence to life without parole in 2017.
  7. State of Michigan v. Gabrion -- Gabrion was sentenced to death for a 1997 murder. Michigan does not have the death penalty, but he was sentenced under the federal system because the victim was killed on federal property. The death sentence was overturned by the 6th circuit because the trial judge did not allow the defense to raise the issue that Michigan could not sentence him to death if he were tried in a state court. The 6th circuit then reversed en banc. There are still sentencing issues to be decided.
  8. State of Arkansas v. Lee -- Lee was convicted of a triple murder of a gun dealer and his family in a plot to set up a whites-only nation in the Pacific Northwest. He was sentenced to death on May 13, 2002.
  9. State of Arizona v. Mitchell -- Mitchell and his co-defendants allegedly got a ride from a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter and they killed both victims and stole the car for use in an armed robbery. Each victim was stabbed at a separate location. The defendant was Native American (tribes have not opted into the federal death penalty). Mitchell was sentenced to death in 2003.
  10. State of Illinois v. Johnson -- Johnson was convicted of ordering the murder of two informants in Illinois in connection with the Gangster Disciples drug conspiracy cases. He was sentenced to death in 1997 but the court overturned his death sentence in 2010 because the jurors were not given sufficient information about the conditions of confinement should they have chosen a life sentence. He was then sentenced to life without parole.


  1. A study in 1973 by Isaac Ehrlich shows that for every inmate who was executed, seven lives were spared because others were deterred from committing murder. Furthermore, the death penalty is the ultimate deterrent because it prevents the murderer from killing again (prevents future crime).
  2. Taking the life of a murderer restores the balance and allows society to show that murder is an intolerable crime. Although a victim's life cannot be returned, an execution brings closure to the murderer's crime and for the victim's family. A lesser punishment undermines the value that society places on lives.
  3. The need for reform should not coincide to abolishing the death penalty. Cases of innocence are rare and most are not proven. Many of those who are released from death row are based on legal technicalities. If someone is innocent, a governor can grant clemency; in reality, most claims of innocence are delaying tactics to put off the execution as long as possible.
  4. Each crime is unique and the circumstances are different for each defendant. More white people are executed in this country than black people. Besides, the Supreme Court has rejected the use of racial bias as the sole reason for overturning a death sentence.


  1. There is evidence that suggests that states in the US that do not employ the death penalty have a lower murder rate than states that do. This shows that the death penalty could not be as much of a deterrent as most people may think. The argument that backs this is that those who commit murders either do not expect to be caught or do not weigh the differences between a possible execution and a life in prison before they commit the murder.
  2. The death penalty is a form of revenge against criminals and promotes a bad example for society. Families of victims denounce the use of the death penalty. Also, the defendants that are sentenced to death are the ones with the fewest resources to defend themselves.
  3. There is a degree of risk in sentencing inmates to death because there have been multiple cases in which there have been mistakes. Since 1973, over 155 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence. For every nine people executed, one person on death row should never have been convicted. Our capital punishment system is "unreliable".
  4. In practice, the death penalty targets groups based on irrational factors such as the quality of counsel, the county in which the crime was committed, or the race of the defendant or victim. Studies have repeatedly shown that the death sentence is far more likely where a white person is murdered than where a black person is murdered. The death penalty does not punish the worst offenders.


  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wyoming
  • (also) US Government
  • (also) US Military

There are currently 31 states in the USA that have capital punishment as an option. There are 19 states that have abolished the death penalty. There are 4 states with a governor-imposed moratorium placed on the death penalty (halted until governor's term ends).

The most common type of capital punishment in the United States currently is the lethal injection. Many states use electrocution as a back-up in case the lethal injection is unavailable.

Doctors and pharmaceutical companies are currently causing issues in states that administer the death penalty quite often. Doctors are concerned that administering these injections are a contradiction to their oath as doctors. Pharmaceutical companies are losing stock interest and company support because of those that are against the death penalty. There has been a wide push for the death penalty to be eliminated at a federal level entirely.

works cited

"Death Penalty Curriculum." High School Curriculum on the Death Penalty. Michigan State University, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2017. <>.

"Death Penalty Information Center." DIPC, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2017. <>.


Created with images by Phil Roeder - "Black & White Justice" • skeeze - "government architecture building" • V31S70 - "IMG_8575" • The U.S. Army - "Screaming Eagles on the range" • Animal Freedom - "Electrocution" • Alexas_Fotos - "konzentrationslager dachau brausebad" • Phil Roeder - "Black & White Justice" • Dave_B_ - "courtroom 600"

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