31 states allow the death penalty. On May 27, 2015, Nebraska became the latest state to outlaw capital punishment, joining 18 other states and the District of Columbia.
There are at least 41 federal capital crimes in the US (as of Dec. 2010) including genocide, espionage, and treason as well as numerous forms of murder.
1,188 people were executed in the US from Jan. 1, 1977 to Dec. 31, 2009. Of those, 1,016 (85%) were executed by lethal injection, 156 (13.1%) by electrocution, 11 (0.9%) in the gas chamber, three (0.3%) by hanging, and two (0.2%) by firing squad.
In 2010, at least 527 executions were carried out by at least 23 countries, not including the thousands of executions carried out by China. Death penalty statistics in China are considered state secrets. Iran executed over 252 people, North Korea executed over 60, and the US executed 46.
On Jan. 4, 1903, Thomas Edison electrocuted Topsy the Elephant with 6,000 volts of electricity in front of 1,500 spectators at Luna Park Zoo on Coney Island. Edison filmed the execution [Warning: graphic and potentially emotionally jarring material in the video] to demonstrate the dangers of alternating current (AC), which threatened the profitability of his direct current (DC) method of electricity distribution.
A lethal injection is normally a combination of three drugs: First, sodium thiopental as anesthesia; second, pancuronium bromide as paralyzer; and third, potassium chloride to induce cardiac arrest. 16 states use lethal injection as the sole method of execution. On Jan. 21, 2011, the sole US maker of sodium thiopental announced it would stop manufacturing the drug.
Nebraska was the last state to use electrocution as its sole method of execution. In the Feb. 8, 2008 Nebraska v. Mata (393KB) decision, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled electrocution as unconstitutional.
Arizona, California, Missouri, and Wyoming are the only four states which authorize the use of the gas chamber as a method of execution (as of Sep. 12, 2011). Arizona allows the gas chamber if an inmate was sentenced before the state switched to lethal injection and the inmate chooses the gas chamber. Wyoming retains the gas chamber option if lethal injection is ever found unconstitutional.
Lethal gas is produced by dropping either potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide into a pan of hydrochloric acid.
New Hampshire and Washington are the only states which authorize hanging as a method of execution (as of Sep. 12, 2011). New Hampshire authorizes hanging as a method of execution if lethal injection cannot be used.
Virginia executed more people between 1608-2002 than any other state, with 1,361 total executions. New York was second (1,130), followed by Pennsylvania (1,043), Texas (1,031), and Georgia (1,031).
Oklahoma and Utah authorize shooting by a firing squad as a method to administer capital punishment (as of Sep. 12, 2011). Oklahoma allows the use of firing squads if lethal injections and electrocutions are found unconstitutional. Utah outlawed the practice on May 3, 2004, but allows it for inmates who select the method and were on death row before it was outlawed.
The last US execution by firing squad took place on June 18, 2010 in Utah. Convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner was the third person in 33 years to be executed by firing squad, with all three executions taking place in Utah (as of July 8, 2010). Gardner was able to choose the firing squad because he was grandfathered in after Utah outlawed firing squads on May 3, 2004.
The top five US executions by crime between 1608 and 2002 are murder (12,111 - 81.8%), rape (988 - 6.7%), slave revolt (277 - 1.9%), house break-in burglary (251 - 1.7%), and robbery (158 - 1.1%).
California executed its oldest death row inmate, Clarence Ray Allen, minutes after his 76th birthday on Jan. 17, 2006. The convicted murderer was blind and wheelchair-bound at the time of his execution and was the last person to be executed in California (as of Sep. 12, 2011).
Between 1608-2002, 143 US prisoners were executed by gunfire, 66 were burned to death, 15 were hung in chains until death, 14 were bludgeoned/broke on wheel, and one was pressed to death between two heavy objects.