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Methods of Execution

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There has been never – ending debate on the controversial issue of capital punishment for a very long time. However, it does not seem like a single final common ground could be established by both opponents and proponents of the death penalty in the United States. The death penalty can be implemented in a number of ways, although some of these measures have over the years been abolished from some specific states. Capital punishment is carried out by lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad.

Lethal Injection

In implementing a lethal injection, the criminal is injected with a deadly drug, or combination of drugs with the direct motive of killing the subject instantly. These lethal drugs include a paralytic, barbiturate, and potassium solution. Once injected, the subject succumbs to sleep or unconsciousness, then ceases breathing entirely and finally his or her heart stops.

The lethal injection as a means execution rose to popularity in the mid – twentieth century as an alternative to other harrowing and painful methods such as the firing squad and electrocution. It so happens that the lethal injection is presently the most regularly - applied method of execution in the United States of America. The quest for a more gentle method of executing criminals stems from a general outcry, to have executions that are more bearable to both the subjects being penalized and members of the public that happen to witness the killing.

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However, the earlier cases of lethal injections in the US did not guarantee a totally pain – free execution. Some resulted in unbearable pain to the subjects before they died, while other similar executions also failed. In some instances, the execution process extended well into hours, resulting in ghastly and grim sights.

One major challenge for lethal injections in the USA is the fact that the procedures do require some medical input. The possibility of including medical staff violates their time – honored medical vows and principles. As a matter of fact, any professional principles that are in favor of the death penalty are in breach of medical ethics.


Electrocution was initially viewed as a milder execution method than the hangman’s noose. The first electric chair in the USA was built in New York in the 19th century. A William Kemmler was the first citizen to be subjected to the electric chair. The state of Nebraska undertook execution as the sole primary execution method until when the Nebraska Supreme Court proclaimed electrocution a cruel and unusual penalty. Consequently, the state remained not having a standard execution method.

In the electrocution process, the subject is shaved clean and then strapped to the chair, his limbs, torso and lower body secured firmly to limit movement and thrashing. The subject wears a sponge headgear that is moist with a saline solution. A skull – shaped metallic cap that acts as an electrode is fixed onto the head and forehead of the criminal. The purpose of the sponge is to limit electric resistance while at the same time avoiding short – circuiting the electric current. Another electrode is made wet with a conductive paste known as Electro Crème, and then attached to a part of the subject’s clean - shaven leg. The criminal is now blindfolded.

When all is set, all staff retreats to the observation area where they can see through a one – sided glass window. Only the executioner stays with the subject. On the warden’s signal, the executioner pulls the switch that connects the power supply. Current flows to and through the subject’s body and lasts for about half a minute. If the prisoner does not die in the first instant, the process is repeated until it is confirmed that the subject has died. Electrocution has faced livid opposition because it mutilates the subject’s body extensively due to electric burns suffered.

Gas Chamber

Here, Cyanide gas is used to kill the subject. To avoid gas leakages, an airtight chamber is designed for the process. The condemned prisoner is secured to a chair inside the airtight chamber. Under the seat, there is a container of sulphuric acid crystals of sodium cyanide are let into the pail full of acid (Bohm, 1999). Hydrogen cyanide is the resultant reaction. The prisoner inhales, and slowly loses consciousness then eventually dies from hypoxia (State whereby oxygen is cut off from the brain).

Firing Squad

In some cases, condemned prisoners can opt for the firing squad as their preferred means of execution. The subject is strapped to a canvas wall. Sandbags are placed around him so as to absorb blood. The subject is then covered with a black hood. A specialist then earmarks the culprit’s heart using a round white fabric target. 5 shooters standing 20 feet away are armed with .30 caliber rifles fully loaded with single rounds  (Ecenbarger, 1994)..

The shooters then fire at the target. The bullets rupture the subject’s heart and lungs, and he or she loses consciousness then dies eventually from the loss of blood.


This is probably the oldest execution method in the history of the United States of America. In this process, the prisoner is weighed one day before the scheduled execution. The authorities run a test using sandbags of a similar weight to that of the inmate. These simulations help them to estimate the drop – length that will ensure a quick and pain – free death. A very long rope could behead the prisoner, while an extremely short rope could take ages for the inmate to die. The rope has a diameter of approximately one inch, and it is boiled and stretched to minimize elasticity. The loop is then lubricated to facilitate a smooth impact.

The inmate is secured, blindfolded and then the rope loop is placed around the neck. A trapdoor is opened, and the inmate descends through it. If the neck does not break instantly, the prisoner dies of asphyxiation.

The above methods are the contemporary proven techniques of executing prisoners. I for one would not endorse the death penalty to deal with criminals. First of all, when capital punishment is applied, and later it is found out that somehow the prisoner was innocent, they cannot be aptly compensated for the miscarriage of justice because they will already be dead. Furthermore, a murder charge could possibly be downplayed to manslaughter due to emerging evidence. James McNicol and Edith Thompson were such victims

When you think of the family and friends left behind by the executed inmate, it paints a grim picture. The pain of anticipation during the build-up of the execution, the shock of witnessing the execution process and the subsequent grief of losing a loved one is too much to bear. In murder cases, relatives and friends of the victim suffer loss, but then again the inmate’s family happens be innocent citizens too! While the State may justify application of capital punishment, there has been poor record of implementation whereby an inmate on death row is kept waiting for many years while awaiting the result of several appeals sent forth (Petrezselyem, 2008).

In as much as they are criminals, the inmates are still humans and part of our society. It is even harder to take when the condemned persons happen to be young. One fatal error, and they get to pay for it with their lives, never having the chance to correct and make up for their ways.

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