Death Penalty


The death penalty is a very controversial topic all over the world. Some people support the death penalty, some oppose it, and some just don’t know. This paper will discuss many of the issues involved in the death penalty, including the different types of execution, the execution of juveniles and the mentally handicapped, and the different arguments (pro and con) to the death penalty.

The death penalty is defined as a sentence of punishment by execution. In the United States, thirty-eight out of fifty states have the death penalty. Fifty percent of the death executions come from Texas, and the other fifty percent come from all the other states combined. Since 1976, the United States has executed nine hundred and sixty people (http// There are five methods of execution used in the United States today.

The first form of execution is hanging. Only two states still have this form of execution. Those states are New Hampshire and Washington. Up until the 1890’s, hanging was the primary form of execution used in the United States.

The second form of execution is a firing squad. The three states that still use this form of execution are Idaho, Oklahoma, and Utah. The inmate is tied in a chair, in front of an oval shaped canvas. There are five marksmen in an enclosure about twenty feet away. All of them have .30 caliber rifles. Four of the rifles are loaded with single rounds. One is loaded with blank rounds. Each marksman aims at the canvas and fires.

The third form of execution is electrocution. The inmate is strapped to a chair. An electrode is placed on his head and one on his leg. When the executioner pulls the handle, a jolt of between five hundred and two thousand volts is given and usually lasts thirty

seconds. There are nine states that authorize this method. Nebraska is the only one that requires this method.

The fourth form of execution is the gas chamber. Five states, Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming, all authorize this method. The inmate is strapped to a chair in an airtight chamber. Below the chair rests a bucket of sulfuric acid. When the executioner pulls a lever, crystals of sodium cyanide are released into the pail. A chemical reaction is caused which releases hydrogen cyanide gas.

The last form of execution is lethal injection. Thirty-eight states, plus the U.S military and government, use this method. Lethal injection is what is used most often in executions, because it is considered “humane”. The inmate is strapped to a table, where he is given an IV. First he is injected with sodium thiopental, which is an anesthetic that puts him to sleep. Next the inmate is given another drug to relax the entire muscle system and stop his breathing. Potassium chloride is given last to stop the heart. This is the only form of execution that does not let the offender suffer. In all other forms, the offender suffers for up to twenty minutes. So, not only are they being killed, they are being killed slowly and painfully.

Probably the best-known execution by lethal injection was Timothy McVeigh. In 1995, using a Ryder Rental truck, McVeigh put a bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At 9:02 the bomb went off. The resulting explosion killed 168 men, women, and children, in what then was probably the worst domestic terrorism act ever recorded. He was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection. This was the first federal execution in more then thirty-eight years. On May 16, 2001 Timothy McVeigh was executed. Right up until his execution, he never showed any signs of remorse. It was almost like he wanted to die. Approximately thirty people personally watched the execution. Some survivors, and relatives of people killed also watched the execution, from a closed circuit television system.

Two major issues with the death penalty are whether we should execute juveniles, and mentally retarded people. Most people feel that this is unethical, and morally wrong. Others feel that if they performed the crime, then they should be punished for it regardless of their age or state of mind.

In 2002 there were only four countries in the world known for executing juveniles. The Unites States is one of them. Twenty-two out of the thirty-eight states who have the death penalty execute people who were either sixteen or seventeen years old at the time of the crime (Grabowski 43). There are currently seventy-three juveniles on death row. All seventy-three are male and they were all convicted of murder. The minimum age to be eligible for the death penalty is sixteen. United States Senator Russ Feingold said, “I don’t think we should be proud of the fact that the United States is the world leader in the execution of child offenders.” I very strongly agree with that quote. Is it good that the United States is one of only four countries in the whole world to execute minors? That must give The United States Government some little clue that its completely wrong if so many countries have it banned. Twelve Juveniles have been executed in the United States in the last five years ( Of these twelve, eight have been in Texas.

A mentally retarded person being executed has also caused many arguments. Mental retardation is not totally understood by doctors, so executing someone with this condition seems barbaric. In 1989 the United States Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally retarded people is not unconstitutional. Today there are twenty-three states that authorize mentally retarded people to be executed; fifteen states do not. Thirty-Five mentally retarded men have been executed since 1976( On June 20, 2002 in the case of Atkins vs. Virginia the Supreme Court ruled that executing someone with mental retardation, was a violation of the eighteenth amendment, and unconstitutional. I agree with this ruling.

How can the courts sentence someone to death if that person doesn’t even know what they did is wrong? If the person has the mindset of a three-year-old, how can you end their life? You wouldn’t end a three-year-olds life, for the same crime. Mental retardation isn’t a condition that can be prevented. No one asks to be born mentally retarded. I agree that execution is a cruel discrimination against handicapped people.

The death penalty is a very controversial subject. Some people agree with it and some are totally against it. The people that are for it say the following: Sentencing someone to life in prison without parole does not prevent a murderer from killing again. There are many murders committed in prison. Many people who are for the death penalty feel, “once a murderer, always a murderer.”

A leading cause of death among prison inmates is murder by other inmates. A murderer serving a life sentence, which cannot be sentenced to death for additional murders, has no reason at all to refrain from killing other inmates or guards, or from hiring other criminals to kill the people outside of prison who helped convict him. Some people feel that if this is going to happen, they why not just put them on death row to begin with.

The facts against the death penalty are also very accurate. The death penalty is very expensive. In Florida, each execution costs the state $3.2 million, compared to $600,000 for life imprisonment ( As said by Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the California Legislature, “Elimination of the death penalty would result in a net savings to the state of at least several tens of millions of dollars annually, and a net savings to local governments in the millions to tens of millions of dollars on a statewide basis.” If there was no death penalty, there would be extra money to use on important things, such as poverty and starvation; instead of using it to kill another person.

Another reason people are against the death penalty is because they think it is inhumane and just plain wrong. In article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Many people agree with this quote and they feel that isn’t right to take another persons life. Another part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,article 3, says, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. It may say that, but obsiously it is not beling observed in the U.S.

After reasearching this essay, I am completely against the death penalty. I feel that is wrong to take another persons life, no matter of the crime in question. Everyone has the right to life that was given to them, I don’t think that one human should be able to take another humans life. One thing that is strange to me is that when someone is in prison because of murder and they end up on death row, isnt that murder? We are murdering them, but yet that isnt illegal. How can it be “OK” to “murder” a person in one instance and then punish it in another?