Methods of Execution
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Lethal Injection - Execution by lethal injection is the most common method used to put condemned inmates to death today. It is achieved by the intravenous delivery of a deadly quantity of three different drugs. The inmate is placed on a gurney and his ankles and wrists are restrained.  A regular saline IV line is started in both arms. Upon the signal of the warden, a large dose of sodium thiopental (a common hospital anesthetic) is delivered, causing unconsciousness. This is followed by pancuronium bromide, which is a muscle-relaxer which paralyzes the lungs and diaphragm. This causes the inmate's respiration to slow significantly. Finally, potassium chloride is introduced into the IV, which causes a fatal cardiac arrest. Death usually occurs approximately 7 minutes after the lethal injection begins.  According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the cost for the drugs used in lethal injection is $86.08.
Electrocution - This method of execution involves using a direct application of electric current to the inmate to cause brain death. The inmate's head is shaved so that an electrode will make direct contact against their skull, while a leg is shaved for the placement of an electrode there as well. The inmate is strapped to the electric chair, which is not actually electrified, but serves to restrain the inmate as the current from the electrodes are applied. The electric current comes from the head electrode at an intensity between 1,500 and 2,250 volts for a period lasting 30 seconds to a full minute. This is then followed by alternating voltages of varying intensity for another minute. The current exits the body via the leg electrode, much in a manner that lightning would seek to hit the ground. The neurons of the inmate's brain are overwhelmed by the current immediately, rendering the inmate brain dead within milliseconds. The body is likely to change color and the flesh may catch fire. There is usually a smell of burning skin after a person is electrocuted, which led many states to shift to lethal injections.
Gas Chamber - When a condemned inmate is executed by lethal gas, the prisoner is restrained in a chair inside an air-tight chamber.  The executioner opens a valve which allows hydrochloric acid to flow into a pan behind the chair. He then adds a quantity of potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide crystals into the acid by pulling a lever. The resulting chemical interaction produces white puffy clouds of lethal hydrocyanic gas. This gas affects the ability of the body to process blood hemoglobin and unconsciousness generally occurs within a few seconds after the prisoner takes a breath. If the prisoner tries to hold their breath, the process can take much longer and can cause convulsions.  It is comparable to having a severe heart attack. After the prisoner is pronounced dead, usually within five to fifteen minutes, air filters are turned on and corrections officers wearing gas masks enter the chamber to confirm death. The body is decontaminated with bleach solutions and the body must be decontaminated before being handled by an undertaker. The gas chamber is now only available as an option to inmates in California and Arizona. Most states which once used lethal gas abandoned the method in favor of lethal injection due to the difficulty of safely maintaining these facilities, some of which were shown to be at risk for leaks.
Hanging - The condemned prisoner is weighed prior to the execution.  A specific amount of force must be applied to the neck in relation to the weight of the inmate. If this is properly done, death is by dislocation of the third or fourth cervical vertebrae. The noose is placed behind the prisoners left ear so as to snap the neck upon dropping when the trap door opens.  If not precisely done, the inmate will strangle to death on the rope, die from lack of blood to the brain, or if dropped too far, decapitation can occur. This is rare though and most inmates died from instantaneous broken necks. Today, hanging is only available as an option to condemned inmates in Washington State.
Firing Squad - Execution by a firing squad usually involves a team of five shooters, only some of whom use real bullets with others using blanks.  The team aims for the trunk of the body, as a target is placed on the heart of the condemned inmate. Currently this method is only used in Utah, but may be dropped from availability in that state in the near future.

 

Methods of Execution

State Method
Alabama Lethal injection or electrocution
Alaska Does not have capital punishment
Arizona1 Lethal injection (or gas chamber - see note)
Arkansas2 Lethal injection (or electrocution - see note)
California Lethal injection
Colorado Lethal injection
Connecticut Lethal injection
Delaware3 Lethal injection (or hanging - see note)
D.C. Do not have capital punishment
Florida4 Lethal injection (or electrocution - see note)
Georgia Lethal injection
Hawaii Do not have capital punishment
Idaho Lethal injection or firing squad
Illinois Lethal injection
Indiana Lethal injection
Iowa Do not have capital punishment
Kansas Lethal injection
Kentucky5 Electrocution (or lethal injection - see note)
Louisiana Lethal injection
Maine Do not have capital punishment
Maryland6 Lethal injection (or gas chamber - see note)
Massachusetts Does not have capital punishment
Michigan Does not have capital punishment
Minnesota Does not have capital punishment
Mississippi Lethal injection
Missouri Lethal injection
Montana Lethal injection
Nebraska Electrocution
Nevada Lethal injection
New Hampshire7 Lethal injection
New Jersey Lethal injection
New Mexico Lethal injection
New York Lethal injection
North Carolina Lethal injection
North Dakota No death penalty
Ohio Lethal injection
Oklahoma8 Lethal injection (electrocution or firing squad - see note)
Oregon Lethal injection
Pennsylvania Lethal injection
Rhode Island No death penalty
South Carolina Lethal injection
South Dakota Lethal injection
Tennessee9 Lethal injection (or electrocution - see note)
Texas Lethal injection
Utah10 Lethal injection (or firing squad - see note)
Vermont No death penalty
Virginia Electrocution or lethal injection
Washington Hanging or lethal injection
West Virginia No death penalty
Wisconsin No death penalty
Wyoming11 Lethal injection (or gas chamber - see note)
Federal12 Lethal injection
  1. Arizona authorizes lethal injection for persons sentenced after 11/15/92; before that date methods are lethal injection or lethal gas at the inmate's choice.

  2. Arkansas authorizes lethal injection for those sentenced on or after 7/4/83; before that date, methods available are lethal injection or electrocution at the inmate's choice.

  3. Delaware authorizes lethal injection for those sentenced on or after 6/13/86; before that date, methods available are lethal injection or hanging at the inmate's choice.

  4. Florida authorizes lethal injection for those sentenced on or after 1/14/00; before that date, methods available are lethal injection or electrocution at the inmate's choice.

  5. Kentucky authorizes lethal injection for persons sentenced on or after 6/1/98; before that date, methods available are lethal injection or electrocution at the inmate's choice.

  6. Maryland authorizes lethal injection for persons sentenced after 3/11/94; before that date methods are lethal injection or lethal gas at the inmate's choice.

  7. New Hampshire authorizes hanging only if lethal injection cannot be given.

  8. Oklahoma authorizes electrocution if lethal injection is ever held to be unconstitutional and firing squad if both lethal injection and electrocution are held unconstitutional.

  9. Tennessee authorizes lethal injection for those whose capital offense occurred after 12/31/98; those who committed the offense before that date may select lethal injection or electrocution.

  10. Utah authorizes lethal injection for persons sentenced after 3/15/04; before that date methods are lethal injection or firing squad at the inmate's choice.

  11. Wyoming authorizes lethal gas if lethal injection is ever held to be unconstitutional. However, the gas chamber facility at the old state prison in Rawlins is no longer usable.

  12. The method of execution of Federal prisoners is lethal injection. For offenses under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the method is that of the state in which the conviction took place.

Sources: Capital Punishment and www.prodeathpenalty.com  


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