Tennessee Governor Approves Return to Electric Chair For Executions

electric_chair_by_aprilrebuilt-d2ylrftA week after a legislator proposed a return to the firing squad for Utah executions,  Republican Gov. Bill Haslam approved a law permitting the use of the electric chair if  Tennessee prisons can’t acquire the proper lethal injection drugs.

Lack of injection drugs forced Oklahoma to use a new three-drug protocol last month that resulted in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. After Lockett’s vein collapsed during lethal injections, he writhed for long minutes until he succumbed to a heart attack 43 minutes later—with officials closing the curtains to block the viewing gallery from the entire spectacle.

The drugs that states previously used have become difficult to acquire because of a European-led boycott on drug sales for executions.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes executions, said Tennessee has become the first U.S. state to reintroduce the electric chair as an execution method without giving the doomed prisoner an option.

“There are states that allow inmates to choose. But it is a very different matter for a state to impose a method like electrocution,” Dieter said. “No other state has gone so far.”

Dieter said Tennessee would have to prove it couldn’t obtain the appropriate drugs and demonstrate that the electric chair doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

While efforts to bring back the firing squad failed in Wyoming and Missouri, as recently as 2010 Utah used the firing squad, when five police officers armed with .30-caliber Winchester rifles executed Ronnie Lee Gardner. Utah had eliminated execution by firing squad in 2004 because of the excessive media attention it gave inmates, but death-row inmates who had been sentenced before 2004, such as Gardner, still had the option of choosing it.

According to a Vanderbilt University poll released this week, 56 percent of voters in Tennessee support use of the electric chair, while 37 percent oppose it.

Before 1999, Tennessee inmates on death row had the choice to die by electric chair or lethal injection. As recently as 2007, Daryl Holton, a Gulf War veteran who killed his three sons and a stepdaughter with a rifle in 1997, was put to death in the electric chair.

Of Tennessee’s 74 inmates on death row, Billy Ray Irick, who was convicted of murdering a 7-year-old Knoxville girl he was babysitting in 1985, is the next prisoner scheduled for execution, on Oct. 7.


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