United States::Gas chamber


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United States

Gas chamber usage in the United States.
  Secondary method only
  Previously used, but not presently
  Never used gas chamber
Post-Furman uses by state and numbers

Gas chambers have been used for capital punishment in the United States to execute death row inmates. The first person to be executed in the United States by lethal gas was Gee Jon, on February 8, 1924. An unsuccessful attempt to pump poison gas directly into his cell at Nevada State Prison led to the development of the first makeshift gas chamber to carry out Gee's death sentence.<ref name="DPIC-Descriptions">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

On December 3, 1948, Miran Thompson and Sam Shockley were executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison for their role in the Battle of Alcatraz.

In 1957, Burton Abbott was executed as the governor of California, Goodwin J. Knight, was on the telephone to stay the execution.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> Since the restoration of the death penalty in the United States in 1976, eleven executions by gas chamber have been conducted.<ref name="CNN">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> By the 1980s, reports of suffering during gas chamber executions had led to controversy over the use of this method.

At the September 2, 1983, execution of Jimmy Lee Gray in Mississippi, officials cleared the viewing room after eight minutes while Gray was still alive and gasping for air. The decision to clear the room while he was still alive was criticized by his attorney. David Bruck, an attorney specializing in death penalty cases, said, "Jimmy Lee Gray died banging his head against a steel pole in the gas chamber while reporters counted his moans."<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref>

During the April 6, 1992, execution of Donald Harding in Arizona, it took 11 minutes for death to occur. The prison warden stated that he would quit if required to conduct another gas chamber execution.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}.</ref> Following Harding's execution, Arizona voted that all persons condemned after November 1992 would be executed by lethal injection.<ref name="CNN" />

Following the execution of Robert Alton Harris, a federal court declared that "execution by lethal gas under the California protocol is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual."<ref></ref> By the late 20th century, most states had switched to methods considered to be more humane, such as lethal injection. California's gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison was converted to an execution chamber for lethal injection.

As of 2010, the last person to be executed in the gas chamber was German national Walter LaGrand, sentenced to death before 1992, who was executed in Arizona on March 3, 1999. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ruled that he could not be executed by gas chamber, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.<ref name="CNN"/> The gas chamber was formerly used in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon. Six states, Arizona, California, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri and Wyoming, authorize lethal gas if lethal injection cannot be administered, the condemned committed their crime before a certain date, or the condemned chooses to die in the gas chamber.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=news }}</ref> In October 2010, New York governor David Paterson signed a bill rendering gas chambers illegal for use by humane societies and other animal shelters.<ref name="humaneanimal">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

Method of use

Using hydrogen cyanide

The former gas chamber at New Mexico State Penitentiary, used only once in 1960 and later replaced by lethal injection.
Executions in California were carried out in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison. It was modified for the use of lethal injection, but has been returned to its original designated purpose, with the creation of a new chamber specifically for lethal injection.

As implemented in the United States, the gas chamber is considered to be the most dangerous, most complicated, and most expensive method of administering the death penalty.<ref>Handbook of Death and Dying by Clifton D. Bryant - Page 499</ref><ref> fourth paragraph</ref><ref>"The History Channel" - Modern Marvels (gas chamber)</ref>  The condemned person is strapped into a chair within an airtight chamber, which is then sealed. The executioner activates a mechanism which drops potassium cyanide (or sodium cyanide <ref> second paragraph</ref><ref></ref>) pellets into a bath of sulfuric acid beneath the chair; the ensuing chemical reaction generates lethal hydrogen cyanide gas. Because hydrogen cyanide gas condenses at approximately 78 °F (26 °C), the temperature in the chamber (when it is in use) is maintained at at least 80 °F (27 °C).<ref>Mississippi State Penitentiary, Leuchter report section 7.002</ref>

The gas is visible to the condemned, who is advised to take several deep breaths to speed unconsciousness. Nonetheless, there are often convulsions and excessive drooling. There may also be urinating, defecating, and vomiting.<ref>Encyclopedia of Capital Punishment in the United States, 2d ed.  by Louis J. Palmer, Jr.  (page 319)</ref><ref>The Death Penalty As Cruel Treatment And Torture  by William Schabas  (page 194)</ref>

Following the execution the chamber is purged with air, and any remnant gas is neutralized with anhydrous ammonia, after which the body can be removed (with great caution, as pockets of gas can be trapped in the deceased's clothing).<ref name="HCN">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> Sometimes, as a safety precaution, the clothing worn by the executed person is destroyed by incineration.<ref name="leuchter2">Mississippi State Penitentiary, Leuchter report section 7.007</ref> The undertaker who handles the body wears rubber gloves for protection against any trace amounts of cyanide that might still be present on or in the body.<ref name="leuchter2" />

Excluding all oxygen

{{#invoke:main|main}} Nitrogen gas or oxygen-depleted air has been considered for human execution, as it can induce nitrogen asphyxiation. In April 2015, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin approved a bill allowing nitrogen asphyxiation as an execution method.<ref name="">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

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