(source: Victoria Advocate)
A look at the history of capital punishment in the United States
— 1775 – At the onset of the American Revolution, all 13 colonies use the death penalty.
— 1787- U.S. Constitution adopted. The Fifth Amendment is also adopted, with a provision that seems to allow for the death penalty. “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
— April 30, 1790 – The 1st U.S. Congress establishes the federal death penalty and what crimes would get the death penalty.
— June 25,1790 – 1st person is executed under U.S. federal death penalty.
— 1833-1835 – Public hangings, which often attracted huge crowds and a circus-like atmosphere, are attacked as “cruel and unusual.” States begin to switch to private hangings in 1833.
— January-February 1843 – Rev. George Cheever and abolitionist John O’Sullivan debate in New York on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent for potential criminals.
— 1845 – 1st national death penalty abolition society, The American Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, is founded.
— 1846 – Michigan becomes the 1st state to abolish capital punishment, except in cases of treason.
— 1852 – Rhode Island becomes the 1st state to outlaw the death penalty for all crimes, including treason.
— July 9, 1868 – The 14th Amendment is ratified and is later used to challenge the death penalty, most famously in Furman v. Georgia.
— Aug. 6, 1890 – The state of New York carries out the 1st execution by electric chair, using assistance from Thomas Edison’s engineers. The process takes 2 surges of electricity to kill William Kemmler, but electrocution is still thought of more humane and efficient than previous methods.
— 1895-1917 – 9 states – Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, Arizona, Missouri and Tennessee – abolish capital punishment during the 2nd Great Reform Era.
— May 2, 1910 – Court cases establishes precedents on “cruel and unusual punishment,” Weems v. United States makes a ruling that affects the debate on the death penalty. The three precedents set are: 1. Cruel and unusual punishment is defined by the changing norms and standards of society and therefore is not based on historical interpretations. 2. Courts may decide whether a punishment is unnecessarily cruel with regard to physical pain. 3. Courts may decide whether a punishment is unnecessarily cruel with regard to psychological pain.”
— Feb. 8, 1924 – Carson City, Nev., carries out the 1st execution by gas in the United States. Gee Jon, a Chinese gang member, was convicted of murder. Lethal gas is considered more humane than electrocution.
— Aug. 14, 1936 – Rainey Bethea becomes the last person to be publicly executed in the United States. Bethea is hanged for raping and murdering an elderly woman in Kentucky.
— Jan. 13, 1953 – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg become the 1st American civilians executed for espionage. The 2 are accused of stealing nuclear research and handing it over to the KGB.
— 1957- 1972 – Several states abolish the death penalty.
— June 29, 1972 -Supreme Court rules in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty, as it was then administered, violates the Fourth and Eight amendments.
— Nov. 21, 1974 – National Conference of Catholic Bishops opposes death penalty.
— July 2, 1976 – In Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court reaffirms the constitutionality of capital punishment for aggravated murder.
— Jan. 17, 1977 – 1st person is executed in U.S. in 10 years. Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah at his own request.
— June 29, 1977 – Supreme Court rules death penalty excessive for rape.
— Dec. 7, 1982 – Texas performs 1st lethal injection.
–June 26, 1986 – Supreme Court rules execution of insane people unconstitutional.
— June 29, 1988 – Supreme Court rules execution of people under 16 unconstitutional.
— 1994 – The 1994 crime bill creates 60 new federal crimes that could get the death penalty imposed.
— Jan. 25, 1996 – Last execution by hanging is carried out in Delaware on Bill Bailey, a convicted double-murderer.
— March 3, 1999 – Last execution by gas chamber, when Walter LeGrand is executed in Arizona. A German national, his case causes controversy as the German government protests the decision. LeGrand chooses the gas chamber, instead of lethal injection, as a way to protest the decision.
— Jan. 31, 2000 – Illinois Gov. George Ryan declares a moratorium on administering the death penalty in the state after exonerations showed there were errors in imposing capital punishment.
— June 11, 2001 – Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, is the 1st federal prisoner to be executed in 38 years.
— June 20, 2002 – Execution of mentally retarded offenders ruled unconstitutional.
— June 24, 2004 – New York state rules death penalty unconstitutional.
— March 1, 2005 – Supreme Court rules execution of people under 18 unconstitutional.
— Dec. 18, 2007 – UN General Assembly passes resolution calling for moratorium on the death penalty.
— March 18, 2009 – New Mexico repeals death penalty.
— June 18, 2010 – Ronnie Lee Gardner, a convicted killer, is executed in Utah by a firing squad, the last execution by this manner. Gardner’s lawyer said he chose this manner so it would be more humane than lethal injection.
— April 25, 2012 – Connecticut repeals death penalty.
— May 2, 2013 – Maryland becomes the 18th state to repeal capital punishment.
— May 22, 2014 – Tennessee starts allowing executions by electric chair again. Because of shortages in the drugs needed for lethal injections, Tennessee passes a law that allows the state to execute people via electrocution.
— Feb. 13, 2015 – Pennsylvania governor imposes moratorium on death penalty.
— March 23, 2015 – Utah brings back firing squad for executions.
— May 27, 2015 – Nebraska abolishes death penalty
Jan. 12, 2016 – The Supreme Court rules Florida’s death penalty, which doesn’t allow juries to decide if capital punishment is warranted, is unconstitutional.
[source: Advocate research]