Death by Lethal Injection

Is lethal injection the most humane method of execution? Is there another way? Should we eliminate the death penalty altogether? Here’s some of the best reporting on the practice.
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An activist against the death penalty displays his sign outside Greensville prison on September 23, 2010, in Jarratt, Virgina, just hours before the scheduled execution of Teresa Lewis, the first woman to be executed in southern Virginia in almost 100 years. (Photo: Edouard Guihaire/AFP/Getty Images)

An activist against the death penalty displays his sign outside Greensville prison on September 23, 2010, in Jarratt, Virgina, just hours before the scheduled execution of Teresa Lewis, the first woman to be executed in southern Virginia in almost 100 years. (Photo: Edouard Guihaire/AFP/Getty Images)

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the United States. But as the morality and fairness of the death penalty continues to face scrutiny and the drugs used for the cocktail are running out, it may be nearing a turning point. We rounded up some of the best reporting on the practice below.

This piece gives a broad overview of the grisly history of executions in the U.S., from hangings to lethal injections.

Jay Chapman "invented" modern lethal injection when he served as the state medical examiner in Oklahoma after lawmakers sought a more humane way to execute people. Oklahoma is one of the primary states where the fight to dismantle the current system is being waged.

The second drug commonly used in "Chapman's Protocol" before states began running out was pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer that one judge wrote, "gives a false impression of serenity to viewers, making punishment by death more palatable and acceptable to society."

In July 2014, Joseph Wood was executed in Arizona. His execution was supposed to take about 10 minutes. He eventually died after 14 additional doses of the execution drug, one hour and 58 minutes after the execution began. Why? This look by 60 Minutes examines the circumstances surrounding Wood's execution and the place it continues to have in the national discussion on lethal injection.

While the war to preserve lethal injection was still being waged in the Supreme Court, this piece examined at the ways states were getting alternatives to injection ready. Oklahoma considered nitrogen gas, Utah looked at using firing squads, and Tennessee opted for its electric chair.

When Nebraska ran out of execution drugs, they turned to Chris Harris—a man in India with no pharmaceutical background who sold them tens of thousands of dollars' worth. Due to Food and Drug Administration regulations, however, the drugs never made it past the airport.

Nebraska isn't the only state buying execution drugs from Chris Harris. Arizona and Texas purchased drugs that were held up by the FDA from the dealer in India. The states are among several, including Ohio, trying to find a way around laws and regulations to get execution drugs.

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This story originally appeared on ProPublica as “Death by Lethal Injection: A Reading Guide” and is re-published here under a Creative Commons license.

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