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William Kemmler

What Happened Next . . .

A number of witnesses to Kemmler's execution were deeply troubled and shaken by what they saw. The media coverage of the execution was extensive and portrayed a wide range of emotions. Some were sensational, even falsely reporting that flames shot from Kemmler's mouth. As a result, a public push in New York for prohibiting electrocutions rose but proved ineffective. The state legislature stood behind the new law. Thomas Edison and others claimed that more powerful generators in future executions would avoid the problems of Kemmler's execution.

The next execution by electric chair came soon in the spring of 1891. Four convicted murders, each for a different crime, were executed at New York's Sing Sing Prison. The revamped generator was able to produce a steady high voltage current. The lower electrodes were placed on the inmates' calves rather than on their spines. With much smoother operation in these executions, acceptance of the electric chair grew.

New York State used the electric chair for seventy-two more years, executing 695 convicts. Other states adopted electrocution as well to carry out death sentences. The change over to electric chairs, however, was not uniform. Some states still used hanging into the 1950s.

Other states, including California and Arizona, never adopted the electric chair. They eventually switched to use of cyanide gas in gas chambers to replace hanging. Delaware, New Hampshire, and Washington still offered hanging as an option at the end of the twentieth century. Through early 2003 a total of 4,458 people had been executed in the electric chair after Kemmler.

Capital Punishment Around the World

By the early 2000s the United States was the only Western democracy and one of only two highly developed countries in the world maintaining the death penalty. Japan was the other. Western European countries began abolishing capital punishment in the 1940s through the 1970s. Eastern and Central European countries abolished capital punishment in the 1990s as the control of the Soviet Union ended. The newly established European Union in the 1990s required that countries abolish capital punishment in order to qualify for membership. Other developed countries abolishing capital punishment in the late twentieth century included Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Nations still using the death penalty, in addition to the United States and Japan, include China, Middle Eastern countries, and African countries.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawWilliam Kemmler - Things To Remember While Reading Excerpts From "far Worse Than Hanging":, Excerpt From "far Worse Than Hanging"