Part 2: Methods, grounds, U.S. trends
Methods used to execute people:
There are eight main methods of execution in current use worldwide:
||Beheading: Only two countries execute people by chopping their
head off: Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
||Electric 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.
||Firing 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.
||Guillotine: A famous French invention, not used in North America. It
severs the neck. Death comes very quickly.
||Hanging: 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.
||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.
||Poison gas: Cyanide capsules are dropped into acid producing Hydrogen Cyanide, a
deadly gas. This takes many minutes of agony before a person dies.
||Stoning: 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,
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
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:
||The 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
||A sharp decrease in total crime rates in the past decade.
||Increasing recognition that race plays a major role in murder
||By 2005-APR, DNA testing has proven that 14 inmates awaiting execution on
death row were innocent.
||Some research has cast doubt on whether capital punishment acts as a
deterrent to murder; other studies claim that a deterrent effect exists. 5
||A growing belief that many convicts have been
executed for crimes they did not commit.
||After 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
Some developments are:
||1997: 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
||2000-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.
||2000-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.
||2001-JAN: ACLU calls for suspension: The American Civil Liberties Union
started to promote a moratorium on future executions.
||2001-JUL: CT: Execution of mentally retarded
banned: The state no longer allows execution of mentally retarded
||2001-AUG: NC: Execution of mentally retarded
banned: The state no longer allows execution of mentally retarded
||2002-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
||2002-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."
||2002-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.
||2002-MAY: MD: Temporary moratorium: Governor Parris
Glendening declared an moratorium on the death penalty in his state.
||2002-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.
||2004-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.
||2006-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
||2009-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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
D.W. Bercot, "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up," Scroll
Publishing, Tyler, TX, (1989) Pages 105-106.
"The Death Penalty", Briefing report, American Civil Liberties Union,
- Gregg v. Georgia, 428 US 153 (1976).
"Death Row U.S.A. - Summer 2002," Death Penalty Information
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/ You need software to read
these files. It can be obtained free from:
"Execution a no-win situation for Governor," The Guardian,
(no longer online)
"Recommendation as approved by the ABA House of Delegates February 3, 1997,"
American Bar Association, at: http://www.abanet.org/irr/rec107.html
"Utah kills off death-row firing squads," Associated Press,
Toronto Star, 2004-MAR-18. Page A22.
"DEATH PENALTY: Catholic bishops leading new push for change,"
ReligionLink, 2005-NOV-07, at:
"Governor Brad Henry Signs Bill Allowing Death Penalty For Repeat Child
Molesters," Associated Press, 2006-JUN-09, at:
Tim Talley, "Okla. Governor Approves Executing Molesters," 2006-JUN,
Charles Montaldo, "Velma Barfield - The Death Row Granny," About.com,
"Monster (2003)," Movie Origins, at:
"After the YouTube execution, what now for death penalty? ; From monster to
martyr?" Independent-London, 2007-JAN-04, at:
"Executions halted in 2 states after botched injection." CNN.com,
Brian Handwerk, "DNA Frees Death-Row Inmates, Brings Others to Justice."
National Geographic Channel, 2005-APR-08, at:
Ian Urbina, "Citing cost, states in U.S. consider halting death penalty,"
The New York Times, 2009-FEB-25, at:
Andrew Welsh-Hubbins, "Ohio ready to execute 1st inmate with single drug;
untested method likely to take longer," Associated Press, 2009-DEC-06, at:
Copyright © 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 1995-JUN-8
Last updated 2009-DEC-07
Author: B. A. Robinson