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englisch artikel (Interpretation und charakterisierung)


Death penalty in the usa

The history and development of re-killing:

The Death Penalty is defined as:
The punishable extinction of the human being; it is forbidden in a lot of states, but everywhere controversial. The execution took - and still takes - place through heading through hatchet (guillotine) - in former times, through hanging (through the \"skein\"), through electrocution (electric chair) or through gas, within the military-laws through shooting.

I chose Death Penalty as my special interest topic, because I think it is a very important and conflictive topic, which contains many oppositional opinions and ideas.

In the following analysis I am trying to point up the backgrounds and statistics of the death penalty in the United States of America.

It is very interesting for me to deal with these oppositions and to reflect them as the death penalty and its execution touches on the humanity and the core values of human being.

All the statistics, tables and numbers I read about the magnitude of the subject issue were quite shocking. It was very hard to believe, that human beings are behind this numbers, who former lived or still live. Nobody really credits them as humans, they only count as digits and numbers.

The controversy of this subject has had impact in different times and cultures. For example, the Old Testament as the source for "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was interpreted by the former great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi as:

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."


The death penalty has been a legalized punishment since the time of the Babylonian king Hammurabi between 1760 and 1750 B.C.

In the case of Robert-François Damiens, in 1757 A. C. convicted of trying to assassinate king Louis XV. of France, the French court decided, that "his chest, arms, shanks and calves be burnt with pincers; his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the crime, burnt in sulfur; that boiling oil, melted lead, rosin and wax mixed with the sulfur be poured in his wounds; and after that his body be pulled and dismembered by four horses and his body burnt in fire and the ashes scattered in the wind". Many people gathered on the plaza to watch this torture.

In 1807 forty thousand people came to watch a hanging in England. The excitement reached a peak that dozens of people were trampled to dead. You could be legally killed for swearing, perjury, arson, worshipping idols, adultery, murder and practicing witchcraft!

In Austria the capital punishment is abolished since 1950, although it was not applied since the turn of the century.

In the present time the United States of America is, together with China, Iraq, Libya, Uganda and Zaire, one of six countries left, which use the capital punishment also known as death penalty or legal killing. Between 1930 and 1967 3.859 people were executed in the United States of America. Sixteen states allow the families of the victims to view the execution, this verifies that most surviving dependents only want revenge
and they do not care who gets hold of. The death penalty has been hotly debated not only as a legal issue, but as a political, religious and ethical one; historically as well as in the present.
Opinion polls in the USA show, that more than 60 percent of the questioned people decline the death penalty if a life-long prison penalty would be offered instead.
Further researches show, that a death penalty case costs between $4 and $5 million from trial to execution. Many advocators say the life-long prison penalty would be to expensive for the state so they have to kill this certain person to save money. These figures show, that the death penalty is not even profitably for the state.
Many advocators also say that the death penalty would deter potential committers much more from their deed than a prison penalty ever could. But most murders are committed by not clearly thinking people, who act in the passion of the moment.

An interesting example for the failure of deterring from murder can be found in an episode which happened in French Guyana: An operator of a guillotine named Hospel should have known better than anybody else how direful death through that machine was. But he himself committed murder, an was beheaded! If it did not deter Hospel, whom should it deter?

Another big issue is that death row inmates are three times likely to die on so-called "natural causes" than to get killed legally. Most of the time these "natural causes" are not natural in the meaning of the sense, but the inmates have to work very hard, get beaten up and cursed all around. The inmates, who die on those "natural causes" are not even mentioned or listed on one of the numberless tables and lists.

Legal bases and counter-movements:

Within the legal system of the United States of America there are five Amendments to the constitution of the USA, which affect the capital punishment:
o The Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unwarranted searches and seizures by the government.
o The Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination.
o The Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a speedy and fair trial before a jury of one's peers.
o The Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
o The Fourteenth Amendment, which deprives any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.

The controversy of the subject even in legal terms became apparent an the case Furman versus Georgia, which was decided at the Supreme Court in 1972. The court decided in a 5-4 decision that the death penalty is not constitutional because of "cruel and unusual punishments", which violated the Eighth Amendment. This was the first case the Supreme Court ruled against the death penalty. But this case was not the end to capital punishment; either it must be fairly imposed or not at all, the court said.
When in 1976 an new case, Gregg versus Georgia came to the Supreme Court, they allowed the death penalty.
Since the Furman-case the Supreme Court tried to make the death penalty as fair as possible. It demanded equality and fairness.

After 1967 the abolition-movement was becoming more stronger. Groups like the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Defense Fund, an arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lobbied very hard in Washington, D.C. against the death penalty. They began challenging capital cases in court and appealed numerous sentences to the Supreme Court.

Racial hassles:

The strong division about the legality of the death penalty also stems from the fact, that it is seen as a racially influenced punishment.

Today in the United States of America black Americans are eight times as likely to be a victim of murder than white Americans. Black Americans, who killed white Americans are nineteen times as likely to be executed as white Americans who kill black Americans!

Black Americans make twelve percent of the population in the United States of America, but 42 percent of the inmates on death row are black. In Virginia black people make up 19 percent of the population, but 50 percent on death row are black. In Illinois, where black people make up 15 percent of the population, 60 percent of the death row inmates are black. 80 percent of Maryland's death row inmates are black, even though only 25 percent of the population is black.

Average time on death row before execution: 10,39 years
Shortest time on death row: 252 days
Longest time on death row: 8.982 days (24 years!)
Youngest at time of execution: 24 years

Oldest at time of execution: 62 years

Gender and racial statistics of death row offenders:
Race: Female: Male: Total:

White (A): 5 158 163
62,5% 35,4% 35,9%

Black (B): 3 183 186
37,5% 41,0% 41,0%

Hispanic (C): 0 101 101
0,0% 22,6% 22,2%

Other (D): 0 4 4
0,0% 0,9% 0,9%

Total: 8 446 454
100,0% 100,0% 100,0%

Statistics on the Death Penalty in the USA:

38 of 50 states in the United States of America have jurisdiction (lat.: jus - law; dicere - speaking) with death penalty statutes: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming. Four states (Kansas, New Hampshire, New York and Tennessee) have death penalty statutes without ever applying it. 16 of this states made use of capital punishment in the years 1995, 1997 and 1998. There are only twelve states and the District of Columbia without capital punishment: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Some states, like Illinois have stalled the execution of death penalty verdicts, because numerous misjudgments have become apparent.

17 persons were executed in Alabama between 1976 and April 1996. Two executions took place in 1995 and one person was executed in 1996. The method of execution is electrocution. 144 inmates are on death row.

Arizona totals twelve executions since the seventies. The most recent is Randy Greenawalt on January 23rd 1997. The methods of execution are gas chamber or lethal injection.

Arkansas has executed 17 persons since 1976, two of them in 1995. The methods of execution are electrocution or lethal injection.

In January 1995 398 persons were on death row. There were no executions in 1994 and 1995. In 1996 one person was executed: William Bonin.


Delaware has executed eight people since 1976; the only person, who was executed in 1995 was Nelson Shelton on 17th of March. The methods of execution are hanging or lethal injection.

Florida ranges at third place with a total of 43 executions. Three persons were executed in 1995. The method of execution is electrocution.

Georgia executed 23 people since 1976. Two were executed last year. The method of execution is electrocution.

Illinois has executed eleven people since 1976, five of them in 1995. The method of execution is lethal injection.

Louisiana has executed 24 persons since 1976. The methods of execution are electrocution or lethal injection.

In Missouri 32 people were executed since 1976 and in doing so it ranges on fourth place. With six executions in 1995 this state ranges behind Texas in the statistics of 1995. The method of execution is lethal injection.

The last man executed in Montana was Duncan McKenzie on May 10th 1995. It was the second execution since more than 50 years. Prisoners can choose between hanging and lethal injection.


Nevada has executed seven inmates since the seventies. The latest execution took place on March 30th 1996 on Richard Allen Moran. In January 1995 there were 69 persons on death row.

North Carolina:

North Carolina totals ten executions, two took place in 1995. The methods of execution are gas chamber or lethal injection.


Oklahoma totals now eleven executed humans. The method of execution is lethal injection.


Pennsylvania totals two executions since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1976. Both were done in 1995. The execution of Keith Zettlemoyer on 2nd of March was the first execution, which took place since 1962. The method of execution is lethal injection.

South Carolina:

16 persons were executed in South Carolina since the reinstitution of the death penalty. The only one in 1995 was Sylvester Adams on August 18th. He was the first person in South Carolina to be given a choice between the electric chair and lethal injection. All others before were executed by electrocution. Inmates still have the choice.


Texas is the state with the largest number of executions in the United States of America! Since 1976, when the death penalty has been reinforced, 160(!) executions have been proceeded. 19 of them took place in 1995, 37 in 1997 and 16 in 1998. The method of execution is lethal injection.


Utah is the only state alongside of Idaho and Oklahoma using the firing squad to performing the capital punishment. The last person executed was William Andrews on 30th of July 1992 by lethal injection.


55 people were legally killed in Virginia. In 1995 this state executed five inmates. The method of execution is electrocution.


The only person executed in Wyoming was Mark Hopkinson on 22nd of January in 1992.

Methods of execution in the USA:

The most common method of execution in the USA is lethal injection of poison, followed by electrocution and asphyxiation by gas. A few states use firing-squads or hanging for executions. Lethal injection - first adopted in Oklahoma and Texas in 1977 - had been adopted as a alternative method of execution in 16 states by September 1986. 27 states use lethal injection by end of 1995.


The prisoner often leaps forward against the clinching buckles when the switch is thrown. The body changes color, the flesh swells and might even catch fire. The prisoner may urinate or vomit blood. Witnesses always report that there is a smell of burning flesh! The electric chair was introduced in 1890 in New York to modernize and humanize such past methods of execution like drawing and quartering (shown on a picture on page 2).
States using electrocution: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Firing squad:

According to information, because there is no log for it, this procedure involves a five man team, one of it will use a blank bullet so that none of them knows who was the real executioner.
Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 two persons have been executed by this method - Gary Gilmore in 1977 and John Taylor in 1996.
States using firing squad: Idaho, Oklahoma and Utah
Gas chamber:

The prisoner is retained in a hermetically sealed steel chamber. On a signal the executioner opens a valve, flowing hydrochloric acid into it. On a second signal, about 8 ounces of potassium cyanide crystals or tablets are dropped into the acid, producing hydro cyanic gas, which destroys the ability to perform hemoglobin. Unconsciousness occurs in a few seconds if the prisoner takes a deep breath, and longer if she or he holds their breath. After pronouncement of death, the chamber is evacuated through carbon and neutralizing filters. Gas-masked crews decontaminate the body with a bleach solution and out gassed before releasing. An imprudent undertaker could be killed if this is not done. The lethal gas was introduced in 1924 in Nevada.
States using gas chamber: Arizona, California, Maryland, Mississippi and North Carolina.


The prisoners are weighed ere the execution. The \"drop\" is based on the prisoners weight (in England tables were developed during the 1800\'s). The prisoners weight in pounds is divided into 1260 to arrive at a drop in feet. This is to assure an - almost - instant death, a minimum of bruising, and neither strangulation nor beheading. The noose coil is placed behind the prisoner's left ear.
States using hanging: Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington
Lethal injection:
A number of doctors have pointed out that drugs may not work effectively on diabetics or former drug-addicts, whose veins may be hard to find. Sometimes a small operation might be required to cut in to an other vein!
States using lethal injection: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, the U.S. Government and the U.S. Military.

Year: 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85
Executions: 0 1 0 2 0 1 2 5 21 18

86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98
18 25 11 16 23 14 31 38 31 56 45 74 51

Texas (160 kills) leads Virginia (55 kills) and Florida (43 kills) in executions, and surprisingly in both states, Texas and Florida, the governor belongs to the Bush-family. In Texas the new president George W. Bush, jr. was and in Florida his brother Jeb Bush is governor.

State: In 1997: In 1998: Since 1976: On death row:

Alabama 3 1 17 153
Arizona 2 4 12 125

Arkansas 4 1 17 35
California 0 1 5 474

Colorado 1 0 1 5
Connecticut 0 0 0 4

Delaware 0 0 8 14
Florida 1 4 43 350

Georgia 0 1 23 109
Idaho 0 0 1 19

Illinois 2 1 11 171
Indiana 1 1 6 45

Kansas 0 0 0 0
Kentucky 1 0 1 28

Louisiana 1 0 24 64
Maryland 1 0 2 17

Mississippi 0 0 4 64
Missouri 6 3 32 96

Montana 0 1 2 7
Nebraska 1 0 3 11

Nevada 0 1 7 84
New Hampshire 0 0 0 0

New Jersey 0 0 0 16
New Mexico 0 0 0 4

New York 0 0 0 0
North Carolina 0 2 10 193

Ohio 0 0 0 180
Oklahoma 1 2 11 123

Oregon 1 0 2 24
Pennsylvania 0 0 2 210

South Carolina 2 3 16 73
South Dakota 0 0 0 2

Tennessee 0 0 0 0
Texas 37 16 160 372

Utah 0 0 5 10
Virginia 9 9 55 43

Washington 0 0 2 11
Wyoming 0 0 1 0 Total 74 51 483 3.136



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