Timeline provided by Stateline.org
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 The Death Penalty Since 1972
(Links to U.S. Supreme Court decisions provided by oyez.org and the Web site of the U.S. Supreme Court)


Furman v. Georgia: The U.S. Supreme Court effectively voids 40 state death penalty statutes and suspends capital punishment, ruling that death sentences are handed down arbitrarily, violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.”


Gregg v. Georgia: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds Georgia’s new death penalty statute, effectively opening the door for states to reinstate capital punishment.


Gary Gilmore is executed by firing squad in Utah on Jan.17. He becomes the first person executed since the death penalty is reinstated.

Oklahoma becomes the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution after its state medical examiner, Jay Chapman, proposes the method.

Coker v. Georgia: The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits executions for rape when the victim is not killed.


Texas becomes the first state to use the lethal-injection method when it executes Charles Brooks Jr. on Dec. 7.


North Carolina killer Velma Barfield on Nov. 2 becomes the first woman to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated.


Ford v. Wainwright: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that executing the mentally insane is unconstitutional.


Thompson v. Oklahoma: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that executing prisoners who were 15 or younger at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.


Stanford v. Kentucky and Wilkins v. Missouri: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the death penalty is not prohibited under the Eighth Amendment for those who committed their crimes at ages 16 or 17.

Penry v. Lynaugh: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that executing the mentally retarded does not violate the Eighth Amendment.


Maryland prisoner Kirk Bloodsworth becomes the first death-row inmate to be freed because of DNA evidence.


President Clinton signs the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, expanding the federal death penalty to 60 crimes.


After the deadly bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, Okla., President Clinton signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which restricts review of death-penalty cases in federal courts.


Pope John Paul II in January visits St. Louis, Mo., and calls for an end to capital punishment in the United States. He privately urges then-Missouri Gov. Carnahan (D) to commute the death sentence of convicted killer Darrell Mease, scheduled to be executed during the Pope’s visit. Carnahan commutes Mease’s sentence to life without parole.


Illinois Gov. George Ryan (R) orders a moratorium on executions and appoints a commission to study flaws in the state’s death penalty system.


Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on June 11 becomes the first federal prisoner to be executed in 38 years.


Ring v. Arizona: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that juries, not judges, should decide sentences of death.

Atkins v. Virginia: The U.S. Supreme Court reverses its 1989 decision in Penry v. Lynaugh and prohibits executing the severely retarded based on the Eighth Amendment.


Illinois Gov. Ryan commutes the death sentences of all 167 inmates on the state’s death row before leaving office in January.


New York’s death penalty statute is declared unconstitutional by the state’s highest court in June. The Kansas Supreme Court voids its death penalty law in December.


Roper v. Simmons: The U.S. Supreme Court reverses its 1989 decision in Stanford v. Kentucky and Wilkins v. Missouri and rules that executing juvenile offenders who were under 18 at the time of their crimes is unconstitutional.


Kansas v. Marsh: The U.S. Supreme Court reinstates Kansas’ 1994 death penalty law, upholding the state’s practice during the sentencing phase of imposing the death penalty in cases where the jury is tied between life imprisonment and death.

Hill v. McDonough: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that a death-row inmate in Florida may file a last-minute challenge to the state’s lethal-injection procedures even though he exhausted his regular appeals.

Challenges to lethal injection put executions on hold in nine states: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri and South Dakota. In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush (R) suspends all executions after the lethal injection of convicted murderer Angel Diaz takes 34 minutes, twice the normal time.


Sept. 25, 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Baze v. Rees, an appeal by two Kentucky death-row inmates who argue that the chemical cocktail used to execute prisoners in 36 states is cruel and unusual. Hours later, Texas inmate Michael Richard is put to death using the same lethal-injection method challenged in the Kentucky case.

Sept. 27, 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court stops the lethal injection of another Texas inmate, Carlton Turner, the first of several delays granted to death-row inmates and the beginning of a de facto nationwide moratorium on executions until Baze v. Rees is decided.

December 2007: With a moratorium on lethal injections effectively in place, 2007 is on track to have fewer executions, 42, than any year since 1994.


Baze v. Rees: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of Kentucky’s lethal injection procedure, holding that the administration of a three-drug cocktail does not violate the Constitution’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” After a seven-month, nationwide moratorium, several states resume executions by lethal injection.

Hearing arguments in Kennedy v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the death penalty may be imposed on those convicted of raping a child.

An Impassioned Debate
An overview of the death penalty in America.

The Death Penalty and the Supreme Court
An analysis of the arguments before the Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees.

Public Opinion on the Death Penalty
Americans continue to support the death penalty.

Religious Groups’ Official Positions on the Death Penalty
A breakdown of 16 major religious groups’ views on the death penalty.

Death Penalty Timeline
A timeline of important court cases and legal milestones since 1972.

Source: Stateline.org reporting
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