Throughout my recent studies on death row and executions in the U.S., I have learnt most of the basic information there is to learn about being sentenced the death penalty.
Today, there are five methods of execution used in the United States. They are;
Since 1776, the largest number of executions have been hangings. The most recent one was in Delaware in 1996, done to a convicted criminal Billy Bailey. Before the execution, the rope is boiled and stretched and is measured compared to the weight of the inmate to make sure the procedure is successful. Inmates in Washington State have hanging as an option if they prefer it over lethal injection.
- Firing Squad
The “Firing Squad” typically consists of five voluntary trained riflemen who hold Winchester rifles. Four of the rifles are loaded with 40 calibre ammunition, and one is blank. This is done so that no one knows who shot the inmate. The five of them shoot at the same time through holes on a wall between them and the inmate, and there is sometimes a “target” pinned over the inmate’s heart where they are supposed to aim. The most recent use of the firing squad was in 2010 to a convicted murderer in Utah named Ronnie Lee Gardner. He spent 25 years on death row, and chose the firing squad as “He lived by a gun so he chose to die by a gun”. Firing squad is available to all inmates in Utah who were convicted in the state before 2004.
- Electric Chair
The electric chair was a very popular method of execution in the 20th century. It is currently an option for Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia. Before any execution, the electric chair is tested by a person assigned that job to make sure it is working and intact. It is also required for the death row inmate to have their head shaved, for better connection to the head as well as preventing the hair from catching on fire. The chair, which has barely changed since the late 1800’s when it was first used, is constructed of wood. The electricity flows through a head and leg piece which immediately kills the inmate.
- Lethal Gas
The lethal gas chamber is unanimously the most dangerous method of execution as gas has no remorse for whom it kills. The chamber is checked multiple times before execution to make sure there are no defaults that could make the situation worse. The “gas” used is hydrogen cyanide, which is an extremely powerful and deadly chemical. The last lethal gas execution was done in Arizona in 1999, and still remains a choice for death row inmates in California and Missouri.
- Lethal Injection
First used in 1982, lethal injection is the current most used technique of execution in the U.S. and has been for the past two decades. The usual three drugs used in the injection are Sodium thiopental which is an anaesthetic that puts the inmate to sleep, pancuronium bromide which causes the muscles to stop moving and breathing, as well as potassium chloride which stops the heart. Lethal injection is an option for all 33 states which have the death penalty.
A few interesting facts –
- The average time someone will spend on death row is 15 years
- From 1967 to 1976 there were no executions in the U.S, which resumed in 1977 to murderer Gary Gilman, who received the firing squad in Utah
- The drive from the prison to the “death house” is the last chance for the inmate to be outdoors. No one in Texas has ever escaped the death house
- The inmate’s final meal is usually their choice but is very limited. Florida’s max budget is $40 for the meal, while Oklahoma’s is a maximum of $15. In 2011, Texas stopped giving their death row inmates a choice for their last meal and now give them whatever is being served in the prison
- A reverend spends the day with the inmate before the execution to help prepare them
- There tends to be much more privilege for inmates in the “death house” versus the prison, as they can shower, sleep and take phone calls whenever they desire
- During the execution, the inmate is allowed to have their family and loved ones attend
- The press and certain “volunteers” also are witnesses to each execution
- The executioner is usually kept anonymous
- In Florida, the executioner is a volunteered civilian who is paid $150 to do the job
- If the inmate does not go to the execution room on their own, they are carried by guards