Experiments in Execution: The Death Penalty Project

Tracking the policies and procedures that dictate how people are put to death in the United States.

There are more than 2000 inmates on death row in 2017 in the United States, but no one knows how they will die.

All states with the death penalty use lethal injection as their primary method of executing inmates, but just what will be injected varies from state to state and execution to execution. States are scrambling to come up with new combinations of lethal drugs because suppliers are refusing to sell them drugs for lethal injections, or they’re looking to other methods of execution: Utah brought back the firing squad.

Each execution with a new lethal injection cocktail is an experiment, and many of these experiments have already gone wrong. Some states won’t say where the drugs they’re using for lethal injections are coming from, and some have admitted that they’re from compounding pharmacies, which do not have to go through the same regulation process as other drug manufacturers.

(Includes executions in the United States from 1890 to 2010. A “botched” execution is one that went wrong in any way. Data from the Death Penalty Information Center.)

This project aims to uncover how each state decides to execute its inmates, where the drugs used in lethal injections are coming from and what the last minutes of an inmate’s life are like.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

4 Articles

Florida inmates are latest in fight against mandatory solitary for death row residents

Recent reports of solitary’s harmful effects have helped bolster cases in multiple states where the capitally-condemned await their fates.

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Five myths about the death penalty

From its role as a deterrent to lavish last meals that only exist in the public imagination, popular misconceptions remain about the way people are put to death in America.

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Utah Department of Corrections releases Technical Manual for their execution process

When Emily Hopkins requested death penalty procedures from the Utah Department of Corrections in 2015, they were met with a rejection, and after that a denied appeal. However, whether it was the result of a new public records officer or a change in UDC policy, a request filed this year led to the release of the Technical Manual used in carrying out executions, including procedures for the firing squad.

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Amid growing scrutiny, Utah refuses to release firing squad procedures

There is a lot of common lore surrounding logistics of firing squads - one gun contains a blanks, executioners aim for the heart, not the head, there may be a blindfold and a cigarette. But what’s actually on the books is a bit of a mystery, and in Utah, where a shortage of lethal drugs has brought the firing squad out of retirement, no light is going to be shed on the issue anytime soon.

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