Black Jack Ketchum's execution, New Mexico Territory, 1901

Black Jack Ketchum

Since the beginning of time, as early as the eighteenth century B.C., people all over the world have been subjected to different kinds of capital punishment for committing various crimes. In early days, crimes that received capital punishment ranged widely from theft to adultery to murder. Today, capital punishment is only received for the most heinous of crimes, but the practice and method have evolved over time.
Before the constitution, death sentences were carried out by means such as crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive and impalement.1 After the abolition movement in the late 1700s, a few states abolished the death penalty, but several of those states eventually reinstated. In the early 1800s, many states adopted electrocution as their means of capital punishment. William Kemmler was the first electrocuted man in the United States in 1890. However, people’s views towards finding a more humane method of capital punishment inevitably lead the U.S. to change their practice to lethal gas in the early 1900s. After Nevada becomes the first state to adopt lethal gas, the execution rate reached the highest levels in American history, about 167 per year.1 Only three decades later, support for the death penalty hits an all-time low, with only forty two percent. An informal moratorium began in 1967 and no death sentences were carried out until the death of Gary Gilmore in 1977, who was killed by firing squad. After the death of Gilmore, an even more humane method of capital punishment is discovered, lethal injection, adopted in 1977 by Oklahoma.