Death Penalty

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Timeline of the Death Penalty (candidate views at bottom of page along with links to video)

1608 - Captain George Kendall becomes the first recorded execution in the new colonies.
1632 - Jane Champion becomes the first woman executed in the new colonies.
Late 1700s - United States abolitionist movement begins.
Early 1800s - Many states reduce their number of capital crimes and build state penitentiaries.
1834 - Pennsylvania becomes the first state to move executions into correctional facilities.
1838 - Discretionary death penalty statutes enacted in Tennessee.
1846 - Michigan becomes the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason.
1890- William Kemmler becomes first person executed by electrocution.
1907-1917 - Nine states abolish the death penalty for all crimes or strictly limit it.
1920s - 1940s - American abolition movement loses support.
1924 - The use of cyanide gas introduced as an execution method
1930s - Executions reach the highest levels in American history - average 167 per year.
1948 - The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaiming a "right to life."
1966 - Support of capital punishment reaches all-time low. A Gallup poll shows support of the death penalty at only 42%.
1968 - Witherspoon v. Illinois. Dismissing potential jurors solely because they express opposition to the death penalty held unconstitutional.
1970 - Crampton v. Ohio and McGautha v. California. The Supreme Court approves of unfettered jury discretion and non-bifurcated trials.
June 1972 - Furman v. Georgia. Supreme Court effectively voids 40 death penalty statutes and suspends the death penalty.
1976 - Gregg v. Georgia. Guided discretion statutes approved. Death penalty reinstated
January 17, 1977 - Ten-year moratorium on executions ends with the execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah.
1977 - Oklahoma becomes the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution.
1977 - Coker v. Georgia. Held death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for rape of an adult woman when the victim is not killed.
December 7, 1982 - Charles Brooks becomes the first person executed by lethal injection.
1984 - Velma Barfield becomes the first woman executed since reinstatement of the death penalty.
1986 - Ford v. Wainwright. Execution of insane persons banned.
1986 - Batson v. Kentucky. Prosecutor who strikes a disproportionate number of citizens of the same race in selecting a jury is required to rebut the inference of discrimination by showing neutral reasons for his or her strikes.
1987 - McCleskey v. Kemp. Racial disparities not recognized as a constitutional violation of "equal protection of the law" unless intentional racial discrimination against the defendant can be shown.
1988 - Thompson v. Oklahoma. Executions of offenders age fifteen and younger at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.
1989 - Stanford v. Kentucky, and Wilkins v. Missouri. Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at age sixteen or seventeen.
1989 - Penry v. Lynaugh. Executing persons with mental retardation is not a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
1993 - Herrera v. Collins. In the absence of other constitutional grounds, new evidence of innocence is no reason for federal court to order a new trial.
1994 - President Clinton signs the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act expanding the federal death penalty.
1996 - President Clinton signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act restricting review in federal courts.
1998 - Karla Faye Tucker and Judi Buenoano executed.
January 1999 - Pope John Paul II visits St. Louis, Missouri, and calls for an end to the death penalty.
April 1999 - U.N. Human Rights Commission Resolution Supporting Worldwide Moratorium On Executions.
June 1999 - Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, signs a decree commuting the death sentences of all of the convicts on Russia's death row.
January 2000 - Illinois Governor George Ryan declares a Moratorium on executions and appoints a blue-ribbon Commission on Capital Punishment to study the issue.
2002 - Ring v. Arizona. A death sentence where the necessary aggravating factors are determined by a judge violates a defendant's constitutional right to a trial by jury.
2002 - Atkins v. Virginia. the execution of mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on crual and unusual punishment.
January 2003 - Gov. George Ryan grants clemency to all of the remaining 167 death row inmates in Illinois because of the flawed process that led to these sentences.
June 2004 - New York's death penalty law declared unconstitutional by the state's high court.

March 2005 - In Roper V. Simmons, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for those who had committed their crimes under 18 years of age was cruel and unusual punishment.

Ever since the 1600s the death penalty has been a form of punishment in America. Although the methods of execution have been changed over time from hanging to electrocution to now the current method of lethal execution, capital punishment has been used in our country.

Death Row is the section of a prison that houses men and women awaiting execution. “Being on Death Row” refers to the state of waiting for one’s execution. Currently, Texas has the most people on Death Row. The cells in the Texas Death Row hold one person and have one window. Inmates are allowed to read, write, and have access to legal materials. Some inmates are allowed to listen to the radio as well.
To get on Death Row in Texas, one has to commit a capital offense. Capital offenses are:
• Murder of a public safety officer or firefighter;
• Murder during the commission of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, or obstruction or retaliation;
• Murder for remuneration;
• Murder during prison escape;
• Murder of a correctional employee;
• Murder by a state prison inmate who is serving a life sentence for any of five offenses (murder, capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery);
• multiple murders;
• Murder of an individual under six years of age.

The average time one stays on Death Row in Texas is 10.26 years. The shortest was 248 days and the longest was 8,854 days (24 years).

This graph shows the number of inmates on Death Row in the entire U.S.A per year up to 2006deathrowmapyr.jpg
Bibliographic Information:

The death penalty is currently executed in 30 states. It was re-legalized by a Supreme Court decision in 1977. Since then, 552 people have been executed. About 3,335 inmates, however, remain on ‘Death Row.’ Texas is by far the national leader in executions -- it has executed 405 people as of Feb. 2008, 37% of the national total. Even though the punishment to death has become scarcer over the years, it is still an issue of great importance that our next presidential candidate needs to address. Much of the current controversy about the death penalty focuses on the circumstances where it should be applied, and on its unequal application among racial and socioeconomic classes. About 52% of death row inmates are Black or other minority, versus 17% in the general population. Over 98% of death row inmates are male.

Death row is a term that refers to the section of a prison that houses individuals awaiting execution. Prisoners may have to wait years before execution, as nearly a quarter of deaths on death row in the United States are of natural causes. Some methods of the execution are decapitation, electrocution, the firing squad, a gas chamber, hanging, a lethal injection, and shooting. The most common method today is the lethal injection. When a lethal injection is being done, the prisoner is first strapped into a gurney, a table-like board where the prisoner is strapped securely. Then two needles are inserted into the prisoner’s veins and the saline solution is injected. Sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, is injected so the prisoner is put to sleep. Pavulon and pancuronium bromide is released inducing paralysis and stopping breathing. The flow of potassium chloride stops the heart, but the chemicals can cause excruciating pain if the prisoner is still conscious. The results to problems of lethal injections are if the prisoner is conscious, there can be excruciating pain from the chemicals and if the prisoner is paralyzed, they are unable to show any pain. Another flaw is the execution can last between twenty minutes to over an hour and during this time, prisoners have been seen gasping for air, grimacing, and convulsing during executions. A final flaw is the chemicals that are injected in the prisoner can burn the skin, and needles have been found in soft tissue.
In an average death row in the state of Kentucky, the average age of murder committed in their death row is 31.13 years old. The oldest and youngest time of murder was fifty-six and twenty years old. Thirty, or 76.9% of the people on death row are white, eight, or 20.5% are black, and one, or 2.6% is Hispanic. 97.4% of the people are male and 2.6% are female. In the state of Tennessee, the number on death row is eighty-nine, with eighty-seven males and two females. Forty-nine of them are white, thirty-seven are black, one is Hispanic, another is Indian and there is one Asian. The oldest male is sixty-five years old and he has served since 2002. The youngest female is thirty-two years old and has served since 1996. The youngest male is twenty-four years old and has served since 2005. The longest time serving is since the year of 1978 and the man is 49 years old. There are many other people on death row in various other states.

"What happens when someone is sentenced to the death penalty?"

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the highest form of punishment. Capital punishment only results when someone commits a capital offense. Capital offenses can include: murder, kidnapping, rape of a child, armed robbery, drug trafficking, or treason. Not all of the states use the death penalty, and there are multiple ways of carrying out the process. The forms of carrying out the death penalty (in the United States) are: lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad, hanging, and gas chamber. After someone is sentenced to the death penalty, he/she may wait many years in death row waiting to die or to be released. Death row is a place where each individual is isolated completely from other people; many of these people go insane. There is much controversy over the death penalty and people of both parties take different sides on the issue. Some people think that capital punishment is immoral. Others believe that it is a well-deserved punishment, or that it deters criminals from committing the same offenses. At the moment, the mentally retarded and those under age eighteen cannot be sentenced to the death penalty due to the mental handicap and the incomplete maturity levels. There are so many different views and rules on capital punishment. Although this issue hasn’t been noted in great detail yet in this election, the death penalty will always be a topic of much discussion.

Capital punishment. (n.d.). In The world book encyclopedia.
Death penalty information center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2008, from
Wex. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2008, from Cornell University Law School, Web

What happens when someone is sentenced to a death penalty?
There are many ways of executions. The most common one is lethal injection. When a prisoner is tied to a gurney. Sodium thiopental, an anesthetic, is injected to put the prisoner to sleep and to lose conscious. Pancuronium bromide is used next, it paralyses the inmate and stops the breathing. Lastly, the executioner injects potassium chloride, which stops the prisoners breathing. This chemical can cause extreme pain if the inmate is still conscious. It is possible for the prisoner to resist or the execution team may not be able find the right vein. The direction of the flow of the injection could go wrong. The executions have lasted between 20 minutes and over an hour. The inmates have been seen gasping for air also.

The death penalty is widely used around the world. For example the Taliban uses it against enemy’s captured. The death penalty is still used in many states as a punishment. There are five different methods of the death penalty, which are lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad. The most common methods used on people are lethal injection and firing squad. As of April 1st 2008, the death penalty was authorized by 37 states, the federal government, and the U.S. Military. The number of Americans supporting the death penalty has begun to decrease, although the death penalty still has over 60% supporting it.

SO what do our presidential candidates view about the use of capitol punishment?

Barack Obama: He believes the death penalty is justified in cases such as terrorism and crimes where the community agrees that is great enough to be punishable to death.

John McCain: He supports the death penalty for federal crimes. McCain supported legislation to prohibit the use of racial statistics in death penalty appeals and supports banning it for persons under eighteen.

Why are female executions less prevalent than male executions?==

It is unquestionable that female executions are less prevalent than male executions in the United States of America (Broom, 2007). While women only commit ten percent of the killings in the United States, they only get about two percent of the total amount of death sentences given in the United States and only represent less than one percent of actual executions in the United States (Wilder, 2008). Also, of the 3,300 inmates on the death row in the United States in 2007, only forty-nine, less than fifteen percent, were women (Broom, 2007).
In the past a judge might say in court that they are sparing a woman's life just because she is a woman. While the idea that all people are created equal is now more enforced in court, judges still might be siding with or sparing more women than men. This could be because the victims of women are almost always lovers, friends, or family, and those who kill strangers are more apt for the death penalty than those who kill family members or friends (Lewin, 1995). This could also be because as Victor Streib says, "It's like there's something more valuable about women's lives," (Broom, 2007). Also, women do not commit as many harsh and violent crimes as men.

Bibliographical Information:
  • Broom, J. (2007, December, 30). Death penalty rare for women. The Seattle Times. Retrieved October 19, 2008 from
  • Lewin, T. (1995, February, 23). Who decides who will die? Even within states, it varies. The New York Times. Retrieved October 19, 2008 from
  • Wilder, M. (2008, February, 17). Professor studies women on death row. Times News. Retrieved October 17, 2008, from Ebsco Publishing.

Check out these videos of both Obama’s and McCains view: