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Moral and Religious Influences - Execution Methods

lethal injection united offenders

Convicted offenders have been executed in many different ways. The Romans of 2,500 years ago burned, drowned, beheaded, and crucified offenders for a wide range of crimes from theft to murder. After the United States was founded and the Constitution was drawn up, torture was no longer practiced because of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Offenders could no longer be burned alive at the stake (like the "witches" of Salem) or killed with burning oil as in early colonial times.

The lethal injection execution chamber at Oregon State Penitentiary. By the early twenty-first century, lethal injection became the preferred method of execution in the United States. (AP/Wide World Photos)

The most common method of execution in early U.S. history was hanging. At first the hangings were performed in public view, and drew large and rowdy crowds. Beginning in 1830, Connecticut hangings were moved to within prison walls away from the public. Public hangings still took place, however, into the 1930s in some states.

In 1888 New York adopted use of the electric chair. The first use of the electric chair came two years later when William Kemmler was executed in New York. Yet because of problems with the equipment, Kemmler's execution led to a prolonged and gruesome death that horrified the witnesses. Despite this troubled beginning, the electric chair became the execution method of choice for more states.

Other forms of execution included firing squads, lethal gas, and hanging through much of the twentieth century. In 1977 Oklahoma adopted lethal injection. The first lethal injection execution in the United States came in 1982 in Texas. Lethal injection became the preferred method everywhere in the United States by the early twenty-first century.

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