Arizona hits the top of list twice for fascinating death penalty facts – once for ripping off a woman’s head and again for being the last state to use the gas chamber.

Illustration by Ryn Gargulinski

Illustration by Ryn Gargulinski

In addition to being featured in a movie I watched last night, the death penalty came up twice this morning. It surfaced as the possible punishment for the driver of the van that crashed and killed 11 illegal immigrants and again as a desired punishment for the alleged killer of the 7-year-old Ajo girl.

I’ve usually been behind the death penalty, although I have to agree with the comment from one astute reader who said: “I have yet to see a victim return to their former state of health by killing the killer.”

Whether you are for or against the death penalty is not the point of this post. The point is to share some compelling death row facts.

Talking about the death penalty also seemed more fun than rewriting another press release. So here we go:


Hanging was the preferred method of execution in Arizona until 1930, when it was outlawed following a mishap. Prisoner Eva Dugan was taken to the gallows where she was dropped down to hang and her head popped off.

Firing range:

Contrary to popular belief, the person about to be executed doesn’t get to stand against a wall with a jazzy blindfold on. He is instead seated, with his head and waist strapped to the chair. He is outfitted with a hood, has a little cloth target stuck to his chest right above his heart and is surrounded by sand bags to absorb the blood as five guys take shots at him with rifles.

Electric chair:

Electric chairs blast people with anywhere between 500 and 2000 volts. A subway system’s third rail averages around 700 volts. Those executed by the electric chair are outfitted with a diaper because they inevitably soil their pants.

Gas chamber:

The first gas chamber experiment failed because executioners didn’t realize they would need the chamber part. Nevada executioners in 1924 tried to pump cyanide into Gee Jon’s cell to kill him, but the thing wasn’t airtight and he kept on ticking. Thus the chamber was constructed.

Arizona was the last state to use the gas chamber in an execution, although it is available as an alternative method in others, with the death of Walter LaGrand in 1999.

Lethal injection:

While lethal injection is the most preferred current mode of execution, it does have its problems. Since doctors are not allowed to perform executions (it’s not ethical), the folks sticking the needles into the prisoner often miss the vein and hit a muscle, causing a big delay and a lot of pain.

Others who are being executed have damaged veins that are hard to find, thanks to years of intravenous drug abuse, again delaying the process.

Much of this information was found at: Michigan State University and Death Penalty Information Center

Do you know any fascinating death row facts? Please share them by commenting below.

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