Angel on Death Row

A Chronology of Capital Punishment in the United States


Congressional Quarterly Researcher, March 10, 1995 Volume 5, No. 9


17th Century
England prescribes death for 14 offenses, but the American colonies impose the death sentence for fewer crimes.

1636
The Massachusetts Bay Colony lists 13 crimes punishable by death, including idolatry and witchcraft.

1682
Under William Penn's Great Act, the death penalty is prescribed only for murder and treason in Pennsylvania.

19th Century
Politics and advances in technology influence use of the death penalty.

Dec. 2, 1859
Abolitionist John Brown is hanged for treason, conspiracy and murder at Charles Town, Virginia.

Aug. 6, 1890
Murderer William Kemmler is the first person executed in the electric chair, at New York's Auburn Prison. The "chair" is later installed at Sing Sing Prison.

1900s
A short-lived abolition movement leads to the repeat of numerous state death penalty statutes.

1907
Kansas abolishes capital punishment. Eight more states follow suit over the next 10 years.

1920s
Two sensational murder cases spark renewed debate over the death penalty.

Sept 10, 1924
Defense attorney Clarence Darrow wins life sentences for Chicago "thrill killers" Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr.

Aug. 22, 1927
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants with anarchist sympathies, are electrocuted in Massachusetts for two murders.

1930s
U.S. executions reach an all-time peak, averaging 167 a year.

1960s
Growing doubts about the death penalty lead to a decline in executions.

June 2, 1967
After Luis Jose Monge dies in the gas chamber at Colorado State Penitentiary, an unofficial moratorium on executions begins.

1970s
An eventful decade for capital punishment sees the death penalty invalidated and then reinstated.

June 29, 1972
Supreme Court rules in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because juries impose sentences arbitrarily. The decision overturns all existing death penalty laws and death sentences

July 2, 1976
The Supreme Court holds in Gregg v. Georgia that under the state's new two-stage trial system, the death penalty no longer violates the Eighth Amendment.

January 17, 1977
A Utah firing squad makes Gary Gilmore the first person executed in the U.S. in almost 10 years.

1977
Oklahoma becomes the first state to adopt lethal injection.

1980s
The Supreme Court further clarifies its views on the death penalty.

1986
Supreme Court bars executing insane persons in Ford v. Wainwright.

1989
In Perry v. Lynaugh, the Supreme court holds that executing mentally retarded persons does not violate the Eighth Amendment.

1990s
Death Penalty provisions in anti-crime bills stir sharp debate in Congress.

Sept. 13, 1994
President Clinton signs crime bill making dozens of federal crimes subject to death penalty.

Feb. 8, 1995
The House votes 297-132 to limit inmate appeals of death sentences to one year in state cases.

March 7, 1995
New York Governor George E. Pataki signs new death penalty law.

February 1997
ABA CALLS FOR MORATORIUM ON EXECUTIONS
UNTIL DEATH PENALTY FAIRNESS ASSURED

At its February 1997 mid-year meeting, the American Bar Association House of Delegates passed a resolution calling for a halt on executions until courts across the country can ensure that such cases are "administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process," and with minimum risk of executing innocent people.

The resolution was adopted by a margin of 280 to 119 votes. It cited some of the ABA's existing policies urging jurisdictions across the country to assure that people charged with capital crimes receive due process protections. For example: provide competent counsel in capital punishment cases; eliminate race discrimination in capital sentencing; and prevent the execution of mentally retarded persons and persons who committed crimes as minors.

The resolution also said that the ABA takes no position on the death penalty per se.

Full text of Resolution.



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