The methods of execution in North Carolina have changed significantly since the first recorded execution in 1726 (Gallagher 1). Since this time, capital punishment has become more humane. The changes that took place made a vital difference in the way condemned prisoners were put to death. In colonial times, most offenders were sentenced to death by hanging, a simple procedure that has been used as a means of execution for as long as man can remember. Initially hanging was strangulation accomplished by placing a rope around the neck and hanging the offender from a tree. It was later modified to become more civilized.
This resulted in the "long drop" method ("Execution Methods" 1). The accused was dropped several feet and stopped by a rope fastened around the neck. The force of the drop and the sudden stop broke bones in the neck and severed the spinal cord causing an almost immediate death. The drop method was considered the only humane means of hanging ("Execution Methods" 1). Burning at the stake was a method of discipline that was usually reserved for witches or heretics. In North Carolina it was used as a means of death for slaves who had committed murder.
The prisoner was restrained on a wooden stake that was surrounded by green wood and kindling. It was then set ablaze. The result was a slow and agonizing demise (Gallagher 1). A wave of change encompassed the country from 1880 till 1910 ("Execution Methods" 1). In 1910 North Carolina became a part of this transformation.
Local government was no longer the authority in death sentences. The state became the administrator of capital punishment ("The Death Penalty" 1). Hanging was soon replaced with electrocution as a "clean, efficient, and humane" method of execution ("Execution Methods" 1). North Carolina put the electric chair in operation in 1910 (Gallagher 14). During execution, the prisoner is strapped into a special chair and his head and body is shaved to provide a better contact for the moistened copper electrodes that are attached to the body. A switch is then thrown that sends 2000 volts of electricity into the convicted.
After the body has cooled, the prisoner is checked for any life signs. If the first attempt did not induce death, another jolt is used. This procedure is followed until the prisoner's expiration. Contrary to the previous conception, electrocution causes significant damage to the body ("Electric Chair" 1). The prisoner's eyeballs sometimes pop out and rest on [his] cheeks. The prisoner often defecates, urinates, and vomits blood and drool.
The body turns bright red as its temperature rises, and the prisoner's flesh swells and his skin stretches to the point of breaking. Sometimes the prisoner catches fire... Witnesses hear a loud and sustained sound like bacon frying, and the sickly sweet smell of burning flesh permeates the chamber ("Electric Chair" 1). Soon after these findings the gas chamber was introduced.
"Lethal gas was seen as an improvement over hanging... and electrocution because it was less violent and did not disfigure or mutilate the body ("Execution Methods" 1)." North Carolina started using the gas chamber in 1936. In an execution using lethal gas, the prisoner is hooked up to a heart monitor and restrained to a chair in an airtight chamber. Cyanide and sulfuric acid is electronically mixed resulting in a noxious gas. After death is confirmed, ammonia gas is released into the chamber to neutralize the poisonous fumes, and the decedent is removed ("The Death Penalty" 1). In 1983 North Carolina started offering prisoners a choice between the gas chamber and lethal injection.
This form of execution involves a constant flow of a fatal combination of drugs administered intravenously. The drugs used in this deadly concoction are thiopental sodium and procuronium bromide. The thiopental sodium renders the prisoner unconscious, and the procuronium bromide relaxes the muscles. Quickly after the medications are administered, the prisoner stops breathing, and death soon follows ("The Death Penalty" 1). In 1998, lethal injection became the sole means of execution in North Carolina ("The Death Penalty" 1).
The 784 people, who were executed before this statute, died not only for their crimes but also through their deaths the state developed more benevolent ways of capital punishment (Gallagher 1-25). "Progress is the injustice each generation commits with regards to its predecessors." EM. Ciaran Works Cited "The Death Penalty." 1 November 2002. "Electric Chair." 1 November 2002.
"Execution Methods Used by States." June 1997 1. November 2002. Gallagher, Rob. "Before the Needles." 7 April 2002. 1 November 2002.