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A glance at the five execution methods allowed today

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Five execution methods are legal in various places in the United States: injection, electrocution, gas, firing squad and hanging. Tennessee this week became the first state to allow use of the electric chair in some circumstances regardless of the inmate's wishes, if injection drugs are not available.

However, all 35 states that have death row inmates, as well as the U.S. military and the federal government, use injection as their primary method of execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School who has studied executions for more than two decades, said states have changed execution methods over the years in recurring attempts to make them more humane and to avoid litigation.

Here is a look at how each of those methods specifically causes death:


First adopted in 1977 in Oklahoma, lethal injection has become the method of choice in all states that still carry out executions.

Generally, inmates are strapped to a gurney while needles are inserted into the veins and the drugs are pumped in. This method is often seen as the most humane of the five because the inmates are supposed to be sedated before they die. Inmates, though, have been known to writhe and talk during poorly carried out injections.

According to Denno, until 2009, all states used a three-drug protocol that included a sedative, a paralytic and then the final, fatal drug to stop the heart. Because of drug shortages and legal challenges that claimed the paralytic drug could mask an inmate's suffering, states are now experimenting with several different protocols.

Some states are adopting a one-drug method that is essentially a massive overdose of a sedative. Other states are keeping a multi-drug protocol but experimenting with different drugs.


New York developed electrocution as an alternative to hanging - which was often a gruesome public spectacle - and executed the first inmate by electric chair in 1890.

Prisoners generally are strapped into a chair with electrodes placed on their heads and legs. Saline-soaked sponges are placed between the skin and the electrodes to aid conductivity.

Denno said the voltage, the number of jolts and the length of time they are administered vary from state to state. Executioners usually give more than one jolt of electricity, to make sure the inmate is dead. Executioners can't give one long, continuous jolt because the person's body could start to burn. Instead they let the body cool down for a few seconds between jolts.

It is unknown whether the person being electrocuted is rendered unconscious by the shock or is merely paralyzed and unable to yell out.

Denno said electrocution usually kills by sending the inmate into cardiac arrest, but it could also cause brain death first. "Or it could be both brain death and heart death."

After Tennessee executed Daryl Holton by electric chair in 2007, a method he chose, state medical examiner Dr. Bruce Levy said Holton died when the electricity stopped his heart. Holton also had burns where the electrodes contacted the skin. And Levy said inmates sometimes suffer broken bones when their muscles clench violently during the shock, but that did not happen with Holton.


Nevada developed the gas chamber in the 1920s as an attempt at a humane method of execution, but Denno said it had "horrific problems" from the start. The original idea was to pump the gas into an inmate's cell while he was sleeping, but there was no way to keep the gas contained, so they built a chamber instead.

Inmates are strapped into a chair and the chamber is filled with cyanide gas, which kills by asphyxiation. The inmates are fully awake and conscious as they suffocate, Denno said.


This method has been used as recently as 2010 in Utah at the request of a condemned man there.

Denno said the prisoner is strapped to a chair, as in electrocution and the gas chamber. A cloth target is placed over prisoner's the heart. Several shooters are given real bullets but one or more are given blanks. Assuming the shooters hit their target, the heart ruptures and the prisoner dies quickly from blood loss.


Before 1890, hanging was the principal method of execution across the country. The prisoner stands over a trap door while a noose is placed around the person's neck, and then the trap door is opened and the prisoner falls.

By design, the fall breaks the prisoner's neck and kills him or her, but Denno said that has often not been the case. In some cases, prisoners have been decapitated from the fall. In other cases, they have strangled over the course of several minutes.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Gary May 23 2014 at 6:29 PM

New Method , Let the victims family kill them by what ever method they choose.

Flag Reply +82 rate up
12 replies
fishhead80 May 23 2014 at 6:34 PM

Kill them in whatever manner they killed their victims. Their suffering should be the same, no more & no less than their victims.

Flag Reply +59 rate up
4 replies
Viper1ex19 May 23 2014 at 6:21 PM

Make it as painful as possible and it will be serving its purpose, and it will set an example for the rest of them.

Flag Reply +55 rate up
4 replies
msanbaker May 23 2014 at 6:00 PM

Who cares how they die. The liberals say it's in humane , they don't give a hoot about the victims. Let's make it easy on the inmates.

Flag Reply +50 rate up
11 replies
Lori May 23 2014 at 5:44 PM

LIGHT EM UP BOYS, LET THE SPARKS FLY!!!!!!! If they did something so horrible as killing another person they should not be shown any easy way out!!!!!

Flag Reply +44 rate up
2 replies
barden62 Lori May 23 2014 at 9:15 PM

The problem is that the death penalty does not deter murder. Murder is a crime of passsion. You may murder your husband ifshe left you for another woman. It happens

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31 replies
aaldrew Lori May 23 2014 at 9:51 PM

Right. With an electric chair do you have to scrape the chair off after every use like an outdoor barbeque grill? I agree with you. Fry 'em.

Flag Reply +17 rate up
1 reply
Living Legend aaldrew May 23 2014 at 10:38 PM

I'm all infavor of burning the morons at the stake. Let them suffer while they die.

Flag +18 rate up
Thomas May 23 2014 at 5:32 PM

Humane ways of execution? Most people who are executed because they killed someone. Were their victims killed humanely by them?

Flag Reply +44 rate up
9 replies
abby123137 May 23 2014 at 6:15 PM

if any of this happen to my family i would want there death to be as SLOW and PAINFULL as it could be

Flag Reply +37 rate up
2 replies
munchenag abby123137 May 23 2014 at 6:28 PM

Of course you would. However, el mucho macho hombre, if you were to administer the end of a human life, it would be a brown pant day for you. Unless of course you are a killing sociopath yourself?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
9 replies
SHELDON abby123137 May 24 2014 at 9:50 AM

That would be isolation in a small cell for the rest of their natural life.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
gbmesserrivaux SHELDON May 24 2014 at 5:22 PM

Sorry to say, but the prison inmate has more rights than you do on the outside no matter what they did on the outside. The courts have ruled they cannot be kept for long periods in isolation, they must be provided access to radio/tv (cable), they must have access to outside activity, fed nutricious meals daily, and have access to hobby time, religious activities, legal assistance, medical treatment, and visitors (may limit as to who). AND you get to pay for it for, as you say, the rest of thier natural lives ! The dead victim(s) had the right to die when and how the criminal wanted them to. Also, the criminals family on the outside gets all the welfare benefits it needs to function with you, again, paying for it. Do you actually think that they way they lived on the outside compared to the better way they will live on the inside will make them clamor to go to death row ?

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munchenag May 23 2014 at 5:49 PM

Nothing more satisfying and entertaining to an average American than a good, old fashion, barbaric execution! Yeeha! What a society!

Globally ranking 4th in number legally exacted, right after China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
And the only remaining western country with capital punishment!

Kill! Kill! Kill! Eye for an eye! More death, more executions, more people in prisons, less schools, less arts and culture in general, more guns and more violence!

Flag Reply +16 rate up
31 replies
bigal516 May 23 2014 at 6:01 PM

I don't believe in exicution. I would rather see a murderer live a terrible existance until he or she dies.

Flag Reply +15 rate up
25 replies
Sally May 24 2014 at 6:23 AM

The question isn't really "Do we want to be kind to killers?"
It is "Do we want to be a decent, humane society or a brutal, barbaric society.

It's obvious from some of the comments here, that some of our citizens are all for the brutality and barbarism. They are happy that we are right there with some of the second and third world countries they probably despise.

Iran led the list of executions with 369 people last year, Iraq executed 169, Saudi Arabia killed 79, North Korea, 70.
The US beat out Somalia with 39 to their 34 for 4th place in the top 10 countries who executed the most people.

Great company....

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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