States puzzle over best form of execution

South Dakota's execution chamber
South Dakota's execution chamber
Courtesy of South Dakota Department of Corrections

In 1977, when the United States resumed executing criminals after a 10-year lull, the convicted murderer Gary Gilmore chose a firing squad over a noose. Soon after that, states looking for a more humane method of capital punishment turned to the seemingly civilized lethal injection.

The botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett last month has once again brought capital punishment practices under scrutiny. The drugs used for lethal injections are becoming increasingly difficult to find as European drug companies withhold exports that might be used to take lives. In response, states are trying new, untested concoctions — and the fiasco in Oklahoma, which ended in Lockett's death from a heart attack after his execution was aborted, was one result.

The Daily Circuit looks at the state of American executions. How do we kill condemned prisoners, compared with the methods used at other times in our history? What's the appeal of lethal injection? And what's the likely future of capital punishment in America?

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