In 1790, Thomas Bird became the first person to be executed under the United States Constitution. Bird was convicted of murder and piracy. Since then, the U.S. state and federal governments have executed thousands of people by hanging, firing squad, electric chair, lethal gas, and lethal injection. The Supreme Court effectively put executions on pause in its 1972 “Furman v. Georgia” decision, but most states immediately began working around the ruling and the Court reinstated the death penalty in the 1976 court decision “Gregg v. Georgia”.
By 2009, all death-penalty states had made lethal injection the sole or primary execution method for death row inmates, despite problems with the method that have been evident since the 1950s. Firing squad is the second most used method in the states. Now, the death penalty is starting to transform once again, because of a shortage in the drug used in the three-drug protocol to paralyze the convicted during his execution. As a result, states have resorted to searching for a replacement in unusual places, such as household drug stores. Some have changed their protocols to use just one drug, or tried to replace the missing drug with new drugs. In some cases these replacements have failed, leading to a botched execution. Others have stopped executions all together. In states such as Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming, there’s even been talk of reintroducing the electric chair. This has led to multiple ethical and legal challenges.
Photo by Ken Piorkowski