Death Penalty

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Each year there are about 250 people added to death row and 35 executed. From 1976 to 1995 there were a total of 314 people put to death in the US 179 of them were put to death using lethal injection, 123 were put to death using electrocution, 9 were put to death in a gas chamber, 2 were hanged, and 1 was put to death using the firing squad. The death penalty is the harshest form of punishment enforced in the United Sates today. Once a jury has convicted a criminal, they go to the second part of the trial, the punishment phase. If the jury recommends the death penalty and the judge agrees then the criminal will face some form of execution, lethal injection is the most common form used today. There was a period from 1972 to 1976 that capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their reason for this decision was that the death penalty was "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment. The decision was reversed when new methods of execution were introduced. Capital punishment is a difficult issue and there are as many different opinions as there are people. In our project, both sides have been presented and argued fully.

Different forms of the death penalty are more humane than others. In the 1920's people decided that lethal gas, or the gas chamber, was more humane than death by electrocution. Nevada was the first state to adopt the gas chamber as their form of execution. The "Humane Death Bill" was passed abolishing all other forms of execution (Hanging or firing squad were the only other two forms of execution at that time) in the state of Nevada, this bill was signed by the governor on March 28, 1921.

Not long after electrocution was tried as being inhumane, the gas chamber was challenged as being cruel and unusual punishment also. Gee Jon and Hughie Sing were the first two people to be sentenced to die by lethal gas. Justice Coleman, after the appeal was denied, relied on the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to try and prove that the courts was not able to say that lethal gas was a painless way of putting a man to death. He tried to prove that it would subject the victim to either pain or torture.

Many people attended the execution of Gee Jon, some of who were physicians and scientists. They came to try and prove that this was a humane way of killing a man, and were unanimous in the end, pronouncing this as a quick and painless method of execution. "Several of them said they thought it the most merciful form yet devised." (Vila, pg. 78-79) This is what happened to the victim according to A. Huftaker, E. E. Hammer, and Major D. A. Turner of the Army Medical Reserve Corps., The man went unconscious after his first breath of the vaporized acid (liquid hydrocyanic acid). Since the man was unconscious he did not feel any pain and died almost instantly. There for the death penalty was for that time a humane way of killing someone.

Electrocution was also done away with in Florida. In it's place came lethal injection. The 74 year old oak chair was banished after the second messed up execution in seven years. Jesse Tafero's in 1990 and Pedro Medina's on march 25. These cases were the basis for the accusation that the electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment.

In both executions, flames shot from the prisoners' heads when the current of electricity was turned on. The chair's head gear was blamed for this problem. "It was brutal, terrible. It was a burning-alive, literally," said attorney Michael Minerva after witnessing the Medina execution.

After all this happened the question of what would replace the electric chair if and when Florida got rid of it came up. The answer to that was lethal injection, a mix of drugs that sends a person in to unconsciousness and then kills them. This was described as similar to putting an animal down. This was a method already employed by 32 states and seemed like the best...
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