Week of 7.14.06
Timeline: Death Penalty Milestones
This Week: Do No Harm? | Web-Extended Interview: "Nurse Karen" | Perspectives: Doctors Speak Out | Article: When Law and Ethics Collide | Timeline: Death Penalty Milestones | Facts & Figures: Capital Punishment | Interview: Bunnatine Greenhouse | TranscriptFrom the time of our nation's beginning until the late 1950s, the federal government played a minor role in setting death penalty policy. Most states provided capital punishment, and executions were common until the late 1950s although some states abolished the death penalty, beginning with Michigan in the late 1840s.
Today, Nebraska is the only state to execute convicts using electrocution as its sole method of capital punishment.
1924 The use of cyanide gas is first introduced as a more humane way of executing inmates in Nevada.
Today, five states authorize lethal gas as a method of execution, but all have lethal injection as an alternative method.
1936 Some 61 percent of Americans favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, according to a Gallup Poll.
1947 In reaction to the atrocities committed during the Second World War, Italy becomes the first major power in Europe to abolish capital punishment.
1962 Canada conducts its last execution.
1965 The death penalty has been abolished in 13 states, and the number of executions in those states where capital punishment remains legal drops from 199 in 1935 to seven in 1965.
The debate over the abolition of the death penalty shifts from state legislatures to federal courts. Death penalty opponents bring lawsuits contending that the death penalty violates several amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
1972 A Supreme Court ruling in the case of Furman v. Georgia suspends the death penalty citing "cruel and unusual punishment." An official moratorium remains until 1976.
1976 In the case of Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court legalizes capital punishment.
1977 Utah becomes the first state to execute a prisoner since the Court's ruling when Gary Gilmore is put to death by firing squad.
Oklahoma becomes the first American state to permit execution by legal injection using a method devised by Dr. Stanley Deutsch to replace methods seen as less humane.
1980 The American Medical Association passes a resolution against physician participation in lethal injections as a violation of core medical ethics.
Early 1980s Every major country in Western Europe has stopped executing criminals.
1982 Charles Brooks becomes the first person in the U.S. executed by legal injection when he is put to death in Texas.
1994 President Clinton signs a crime bill making dozens of federal crimes subject to death penalty. Public support for the death penalty reaches 80 percent.
1999 The United Nations Human Rights Commission passes a resolution supporting a worldwide moratorium on executions.
2002 The Supreme Court bans execution of the mentally retarded.
Executions Since 1976 by Method Used:
Lethal Injection: 861
Gas Chamber: 11
Firing Squad: 2
2003 According to Amnesty International, a total of at least 1,146 prisoners were executed in 28 countries. Four nations - China, Iran, the United States, and Vietnam - conduct 84 percent of all executions.
2005 The Supreme Court strikes down the death penalty for juveniles.
Some 83 countries no longer authorize the death penalty, whereas 78 nations permit it for some crimes. The U.S. is the only Western industrialized nation where executions still occur.
2006 Some 65 percent of Americans support the death penalty, according to a Gallup Poll. Lethal injection remains the preferred method of execution in most U.S. states today.
Sources: Death Penalty Information Center, Encarta, Michigan State University