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Capital punishment

Part 2: Methods, grounds, U.S. trends

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Methods used to execute people:

There are eight main methods of execution in current use worldwide:  1

bulletBeheading: Only two countries execute people by chopping their head off: Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
bulletElectric chair: (US only) Nobody knows how quickly a person dies from the electric shock, or what they experience. The ACLU describes two cases where prisoners apparently lived for 4 to 10 minutes before finally expiring.
bulletFiring squad: The prisoner is bound and shot through the heart by multiple marksmen. Death appears to be quick, assuming the killers don't miss. In the U.S., only Utah used this method. It was abandoned in favor of lethal injection on 2004-MAR-15, except for four convicted killers on death row who had previously chosen death by firing squad. 2 This method is used in Belarus, China, Somolia, Taiwan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and other countries.
bulletGuillotine: A famous French invention, not used in North America. It severs the neck. Death comes very quickly.
bulletHanging: if properly conducted, this is a humane method. The neck is broken and death comes quickly. However, if the free-fall distance is inadequate, the prisoner ends up slowly being strangled to death. If it is too great, the rope will tear his/her head off. This method is used in Egypt, Iran, Japan, Jordan, Pakistan, Singapore and others.
bullet Lethal injection: Lethal drugs are injected into the prisoner while he lays strapped down to a table. Typically, sodium pentothal is injected to make the prisoner unconscious. Then pancuronium bromide is injected. It terminates breathing and paralyzes the individual  Finally, potassium chloride is injected to stop the heart. If properly conducted, the prisoner fades quickly into unconsciousness. If the dosage of drugs is too low, the person may linger for many minutes, experiencing paralysis. Executions in the U.S. have gradually shifted to this method. This technique has been challenged recently by those who feel that the prisoner may not be rendered unconscious by the drugs. Some suggest that this method can be extremely painful. After a botched execution of Angel Nieves Diaz in Florida during 2006-DEC, Florida and nine other states have placed a hold on executions. Lethal injection is also used in China, Guatemala, Philippines, and Thailand.
bulletPoison gas: Cyanide capsules are dropped into acid producing Hydrogen Cyanide, a deadly gas. This takes many minutes of agony before a person dies.
bulletStoning: The prisoner is often buried up to her or his neck and pelted with rocks until they eventually die. The rocks are chosen so that they are large enough to cause significant injury to the victim, but are not so large that a single rock will kill the prisoner. Stoning is used in Afghanistan and Iran, as a penalty for murder, adultery, blasphemy, and other crimes. 3

Grounds for applying the death penalty:

In almost all states that perform executions, the death penalty is limited to cases involving aggravated murder.

However, there is a growing number of states that also allow the execution of convicted child molesters. As of early 2006, these included Florida, Louisiana and Montana. On 2006-JUN-09, Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma signed a bill into law that permits the death penalty for anyone convicted of a second or subsequent rape, forcible sodomy, lewd molestation or rape by instrumentation of a child under 14 years of age. The governor of South Carolina signed a similar bill on the previous day. 4

Fortunately, none of the adults who were convicted of multi-victim, multi-offender (MVMO) sexual crimes against children in day care centers, by sexual molestation rings, etc. during the 1980s and early 1990s were executed. It appears that all or almost all were based on implanted memories and did not actually happen.

More details on this topic.

Recent trends in the U.S.:

The country has experienced a significant swing in opinion against the death penalty in recent years.

Some reasons are:

bulletThe continued opposition to the death penalty by some mainline faith groups, all or essentially all liberal faith groups, and the Roman Catholic Church. As in so many other matters, most of the Catholic church laity strongly disagrees with the Church leaders.
bulletA sharp decrease in total crime rates in the past decade.
bulletIncreasing recognition that race plays a major role in murder convictions.
bulletBy 2005-APR, DNA testing has proven that 14 inmates awaiting execution on death row were innocent.
bulletSome research has cast doubt on whether capital punishment acts as a deterrent to murder; other studies claim that a deterrent effect exists. 5
bulletA growing belief that many convicts have been executed for crimes they did not commit.
bulletAfter a botched execution in Florida during 2006-DEC in which Angel Diaz took two injections and 34 minutes to die, Jeb Bush temporarily suspended future executions. Nine other states followed suit. 6

Some developments are:

bullet1997: ABA calls for suspension: the American Bar Association called for a suspension of the death penalty, until new policies are implemented to make certain that "death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process, and...minimize the risk that innocent persons may be executed." The Association is also opposed to the execution of mentally retarded individuals and child criminals. 7
bullet2000-JAN: IL: Temporary moratorium: Recent DNA tests on inmates on Illinois' death row proved that 13 were innocent. Governor G.H. Ryan of Illinois announced a moratorium on executions in that state until after an administration review of the death penalty.
bullet2000-JUN: USA: Christian denominations take opposing views: The Southern Baptist Convention -- the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. -- reaffirmed its support for the death penalty; the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly reaffirmed their opposition.
bullet2001-JAN: ACLU calls for suspension: The American Civil Liberties Union started to promote a moratorium on future executions.
bullet2001-JUL: CT: Execution of mentally retarded banned: The state no longer allows execution of mentally retarded persons.
bullet2001-AUG: NC: Execution of mentally retarded banned: The state no longer allows execution of mentally retarded persons.
bullet2002-MAR: NY: Voters prefer life without parole: Zogby International surveyed registered voters in Albany NY and the surrounding county. As expected, those polled preferred to retain capital punishment by a vote of 55% to 42%. But when asked about alternatives, 67% preferred sentencing convicted murderers to life imprisonment with no chance for parole vs. 27% who preferred the death penalty.
bullet2002-APR: NY: Judge ready to declare death penalty unconstitutional: Judge Jed Rakoff of the Manhattan Federal Court gave U.S. Justice Department lawyers a few weeks to argue whether retaining capital punishment "can constitutionally justify the knowing execution of innocent persons."
bullet2002-APR: AZ: 100th inmate on death row declared not guilty: DNA evidence proved that former postman Ray Krone did not kill an Arizona bartender. The evidence proved that a convicted sex offender was actually guilty. Krone is the 100th inmate to be declared not guilty in the U.S. since 1973. 
bullet2002-MAY: MD: Temporary moratorium: Governor Parris Glendening declared an moratorium on the death penalty in his state.
bullet2002-MAY: USA: Federal bills: The Death Penalty Moratorium Act was introduced into the Senate. An Innocence Protection Act was introduced into both the House and Senate. Neither became law.
bullet2004-MAR-15: UT: Governor bans death by firing squad: Governor Olene Walker signed a bill into law that removes death by firing squad as an option that can be chosen by convicted murderers. Executions in the future will be by lethal injection. Four convicted murderers who have already selected the firing squad will have their wishes granted if they are eventually executed. 8
bullet2006-JUN-09: OK: Governor widens role of death penalty: Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma signed a bill to allow the death penalty for repeat child molesters or aggravated molestation of children. Anyone convicted for a second time of rape, forcible sodomy, lewd molestation or rape by instrumentation of a child under 14 years of age is now eligible for execution. 9 More details
bullet2009-DEC-06: OH: New lethal injection method may be tried: Kenneth Biros is scheduled to be executed on DEC-08. A new method is expected to be used: a single injection of thiopental sodium. Elsewhere, a sequence of three drugs are used. 17

The above information are summaries of the more important news items. More details are available.

A new concern: budgetary restrictions:

In a speech before the Maryland Senate in mid-2009-FEB, Governor Martin O'Malley argued that the death penalty in the state be eliminated to cut costs. He noted that capital homicide cases cost three times as much as homicide cases in which the death penalty is not sought. He said: "... we can't afford that when there are better and cheaper ways to reduce crime."

Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire have made similar arguments in bills launched to repeal the death penalty. The New York Times noted that experts said such bills have a good chance of passing in Maryland, Montana and New Mexico. 10

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. D.W. Bercot, "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up," Scroll Publishing, Tyler, TX, (1989) Pages 105-106.
  2. "The Death Penalty", Briefing report, American Civil Liberties Union, at:
  3. Gregg v. Georgia, 428 US 153 (1976).
  4. "Death Row U.S.A. - Summer 2002," Death Penalty Information Center, at:  You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  5. "Execution a no-win situation for Governor," The Guardian, 1997-DEC-20,  (no longer online)
  6. "Recommendation as approved by the ABA House of Delegates February 3, 1997," American Bar Association, at:
  7. "Utah kills off death-row firing squads," Associated Press, Toronto Star, 2004-MAR-18. Page A22.
  8. "DEATH PENALTY: Catholic bishops leading new push for change," ReligionLink, 2005-NOV-07, at:
  9. "Governor Brad Henry Signs Bill Allowing Death Penalty For Repeat Child Molesters," Associated Press, 2006-JUN-09, at:
  10. Tim Talley, "Okla. Governor Approves Executing Molesters," 2006-JUN, at:
  11. Charles Montaldo, "Velma Barfield - The Death Row Granny,", at:
  12. "Monster (2003)," Movie Origins, at:
  13. "After the YouTube execution, what now for death penalty? ; From monster to martyr?" Independent-London, 2007-JAN-04, at:
  14. "Executions halted in 2 states after botched injection.", 2006-DEC-15, at:
  15. Brian Handwerk, "DNA Frees Death-Row Inmates, Brings Others to Justice."
    National Geographic Channel, 2005-APR-08, at:
  16. Ian Urbina, "Citing cost, states in U.S. consider halting death penalty," The New York Times, 2009-FEB-25, at:
  17. Andrew Welsh-Hubbins, "Ohio ready to execute 1st inmate with single drug; untested method likely to take longer," Associated Press, 2009-DEC-06, at:

Navigation: Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Death penalty > here

Copyright 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1995-JUN-8
Last updated 2009-DEC-07

Author: B. A. Robinson

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