Death Penalty Methods and the History

Death Penalty Methods and the History.

In the early days of the death penalty, you could be executed by a wide array of methods; hanging, firing squad, beheading, quartering, burning at the stake, drowning and others. More recent methods include gas chamber, electric chair and lethal injection.

During the 1700-1800’s, hanging was the most common method of execution and everyone in town was invited. Sometimes, school was let out so children could attend the executions. Hangings always made front page of the papers. Lucky was the preacher who got to say the sermon at the hanging. Never again would he enjoy that level of attendance to a sermon. In the early 1900’s, the mood was changing about public executions. The crowds tended to be rowdy, with drunkenness reported, along with a carnival like environment. Upper class American’s began to look at hangings as entertainment only enjoyed by the lower classes. With the advent of America’s new penitentiaries or prisons, the hangings were able to be moved behind the walls of the prison. This limited the number of people who were able to attend hangings, which became exclusive events for the rich and the friends of the sheriff.

Death Penalty Methods and the History

Hangings weren’t without controversy. Occasionally the gallows drop would be too far and the condemned individuals head would pop off and the body would fall to the ground with a thud. Even more likely, the gallows drop would be too short and the condemned individuals neck would not break and they would hang there for minutes, sometimes 15 or 20 minutes, with gurgling noises accompanied by violent convulsions as their body slowly died in distress. All of this occurred in front of a horrified audience.

With the advent of electricity, a new form of execution was established which was referred to as Electrocution. At first, electrocution looked like a neat and tidy fix for the failures prone to hangings. It was sold as more humane and more instantaneous. However, in practice electrocution had its own set of failures. Sometimes the condemned remained alive after the electrocution and sometimes the condemned would be burnt with smoke, fire and electric bolts emanating from the helmet that transferred the electricity into the condemned individual.

With the advent of the electric chair, the number of people who could attend executions was again diminished because the electric chairs had to be indoors in a room dedicated for its use. This also created a market for specialized executioners, who understood electricity.

The next advance in the technology of execution was the Gas Chamber. The condemned would be placed in a sealed room and exposed to poison gas. This wasn’t without it’s own set of problems, that made it difficult to administer and difficult to observe as spectators.

Following the gas chamber, was the advent of Lethal Injection, which is now the most common method of execution. The typical method of lethal injection is that a series of drugs are administered in a set sequence. First the condemned is rendered unconscious, then subsequent drugs paralyze the lungs and heart causing death, which is verified through the use of a heart monitor. Even this method, has seen a few problems with the condemned gasping and convulsing on the table for minutes. Executions have also had interruptions due to clogged veins or other technical issues.