Presumably, Gee Jon Had No Cellmate
After hearing about the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois today, I spent a short while poking around a few death penalty web sites, especially since I was curious which other states have no capital punishment. More than I thought: 16, counting Illinois. Surprisingly, a handful of states have had no death penalty since the 19th century -- Wisconsin, since 1853; Michigan, since 1846; and Maine, since 1887.
I also came across some odd, and oddly morbid, facts about the practice. In a short article about the history of the death penalty in this country, the data-rich deathpenaltyinfo.org mentioned in passing the introduction of the gas chamber, which was a popular option for states in the mid-20th century. I'm just old enough to remember characters on cop and lawyer shows threatening suspects with the gas chamber.
"In 1924, the use of cyanide gas was introduced, as Nevada sought a more humane way of executing its inmates," the web site says. "Gee Jon was the first person executed by lethal gas. The state tried to pump cyanide gas into Jon's cell while he slept, but this proved impossible, and the gas chamber was constructed."
Italics added. It's a little hard to imagine prison officials actually trying such a thing -- the stuff of comedy, if it didn't involve someone's death.