Executions in 2018: min. 690 plus 'thousands' in China

The History of Capital Punishment with reference to the USA

The first recorded capital punishment law reaches back to the 18th century B.C. and arises in the code of King Hammurabi of Babylon. Twenty five kinds of crime were punishable by death under this law.

In the 7th century B.C. capital punishment stood on every crime.

Crucifixion, drowning, striking dead, being burned alive and impalement were methods by which execution was carried out in the 5th century B.C.

In the 10th century A.D. hanging became the usual execution method in Great Britain.

In the next century, William of the conquerors permitted executions only at wartimes, however, this drastically changed under Henry VIII in the 16th century. Under his regency 72,000 people were cooked to death, burnt on the pyre, hung, beheaded, stretched and quartered for crimes such as marriage with a Jew, refusal to confess a crime, and on betrayal, all crimes considered to be capital punishment.

In 1700 two hundred twenty two (222) crimes were to be punished with death in Great Britain, including burglary, cutting down a tree and theft of a warren. However, because of the harshness of capital punishment many jurors refused to condemn a defendant if a less serious crime was concerned. This led to reforms of the British capital punishment law. From 1823 to 1837 two hundred twenty two (222) crimes considered punishable by death were reduced to 100.

Great Britain influenced America's capital punishment more than every other country. When European colonists came to the New World, they brought capital punishment with them. The first reported execution in the new colonies was the execution of George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. Kendall was executed for working as a spy for Spain.

In 1612 the governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas Dale implemented laws that made stealing bunches of grapes, killing chickens or dealing with the Indian inhabitants all capital crimes punishable by death.

The capital punishment laws varied from colony to colony. In New York 1,665 laws were enacted concerning crimes punishable by death which included hitting ones mother or father or denying ones "true God".

The roots of the anti-capital punishment movement lie in Europe, in the texts of Montesquieu, Voltaire and Bentham as well as in texts by the English Quakers John Bellers and John Howard. Still it was the essay 'about crime and punishment' by Cesare Beccaria in 1767 which had an especially strong influence on the whole world. Beccaria wrote that there 'is no justification for the fact that a state kills.'

In 1924 cyanide gas was introduced in the USA when the federal state of Nevada looked for a more humane execution method for its prisoners; Gee Jon was the first person executed by this method. The state at first tried to pump cyanide gas into Jons cell while he slept, which, subsequently, was proven to not be practical method. Eventually, the gas chamber was established.

About 1950 the public setting slowly trended against capital punishment. Many allied nations either had abolished capital punishment completely or had limited it, and in the USA the number of the executions decreased. During the 1940’s another 1,289 executions took place, ten years later 715 and the number further decreased to 191 from 1960 to 1976. According to a survey in 1966 only 42% of the American population was in favor capital punishment and it was considered that people were sentenced to death arbitrarily.

In 1972 the case Furman against the state of Georgia (408 U.S. 238) came to the Supreme Court of the United States. Furman argued that capital punishment was covered arbitrarily according to mood and was in violation of the Eighth Amendment (addition to the American constitution) which grants protection from cruel and unusual punishment to every person. The Supreme Court justices ruled that a punishment is cruel and unusual if it is not adequate to the crime, if it is covered arbitrarily, if it injures the public justice sense and if it is not more effective than another punishment. On the 29th of June 1972 the Supreme Court declared 40 capital punishment laws as void, capital punishment paused in the whole country and the death sentences of 629 prisoners were commuted to life imprisonment.

The federal states reworked their capital punishment laws to exclude the possibility of arbitrariness of a death sentence. Directives were fixed which enabled a judge or the jurors to consider aggravating or penal-extenuating factors. Furthermore two different phases of the hearing were introduced – the guilt or innocence phase, and the punishment phase in case of conviction.  Moreover, the automatic legal remedies after which judgment and punishment can be checked once again in appeal were fixed.

In 1976 capital punishment was brought into force again and executions resumed on 17th January 1977 at which time Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad.

On the 2nd of December 1982 Charles Brooks was the first prisoner to be executed by lethal injection in the State of Texas.

Pending US-Executions

Unfortunately the United States of America still is one of the countries which regularly executes people.

You’ll find a list of the already scheduled executions here.  


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