400 Years of Execution
By Sam Hart
April 24, 2017

Last week, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee as part of a series of executions the state is performing before the expiration of their lethal injection drug, midazolam. Court orders effectively blocked four other lethal injections scheduled for last week.

Lethal injection, the primary mode of execution for states in which the death penalty is still legal, has fallen under constitutional scrutiny, and pharmaceutical companies have objected to selling drugs to prisons for the purpose of carrying out executions. While the method of lethal injection has come under fire for being inhumane, some of its predecessors were even more so:

Injustice Watch reviewed 400 years-worth of data on executions carried out on American soil from data collected by researchers M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla (current to 2002), and a more current database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center.

Our analysis shows:

Murder is overwhelmingly the crime that has led to the death penalty. But many people have been executed for crimes that no longer would merit a death sentence in any states—crimes like witchcraft, slave revolt, and horse theft.

Find the dataset and our code for analyzing and visualizing it on our GitHub.