BALTIMORE – Maryland prison officials killed Tyrone Delano Gilliam Monday night by lethal injection, which officials say is the quickest and most pain-free method of execution.
A series of three chemicals flowed into Gilliam’s left arm vein to kill him within minutes, stopping his breathing, heart muscles and electrical activity.
Thirty-three of the 37 other states that allow a death sentence give this option of execution; the remaining four use the electric chair, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Gilliam’s execution took place in the second-floor execution chamber at the Maryland Penitentiary. When the curtains parted, the convicted murderer was already strapped onto a leather table. A needle inserted in his arm led to a tube through which the lethal chemicals flowed.
The prick of the needle was the only pain Gilliam felt, said Leonard Sipes, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Brian Henninger, program coordinator for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said there is no humane way to kill a person. “I know of situations where needles have slipped out and the condemned person has to struggle to recompose themselves,” he said.
Execution commander William L. Sondervan flipped the switch at 10:14 p.m. to begin pumping sodium pentothal into Gilliam’s blood stream. In less than a minute, Gilliam was unconscious, Sipes said, breathing deeply as the barbiturate slowed his breathing. This chemical alone would have killed him, but two other chemicals prevented Gilliam’s muscles from contracting in an uncontrollable seizure before death, Sipes said.
A second substance, pavulon, was injected four minutes after the first, paralyzing Gilliam’s muscles, stopping his heart and lungs, Sipes said. Potassium chloride was then injected to stop all electrical activity and the heart beat. A doctor declared Gilliam dead at 10:27 p.m.
Lethal injection is a relatively new method of killing in Maryland. From colonial times until the early 1920s, Maryland hung most of its criminals at outdoor executions in the counties where the criminals were convicted. After a mob tore the clothes from one hung man, the General Assembly in 1922 ordered all executions to be held indoors with official witnesses only, Sipes said.
Convicted murderer William C. Thomas was the last man hung in Maryland, in 1955.
That same year, Maryland switched to the gas chamber. Four Maryland criminals died in gas chambers, the last being convicted rapist and murderer Nathaniel Lipscomb in 1961.
Triple murderer John F. Thanos was the first person in Maryland to die by lethal injection, in May 1994. In July 1997, Flint Gregory Hunt, convicted of killing a police officer, was the second executed in the state by lethal injection. -30-