Virginia Moves to Bring Back Chair as Primary Execution Method

Wednesday, 22 Jan 2014 05:45 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Virginia moved a step closer Wednesday to using the electric chair as its first-line method of death-row executions, two reports said.

The Washington Post reported the House of Delegates passed a bill making electrocutions the default method; currently, the chair is only used upon specific request of the sentenced inmate.

A Senate version of the bill is in committee and, if ultimately passed, would need the signature of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

"It’s a barbaric way for the state to execute people," Democratic Del. Scott. Surovell of Fairfax told The Post after the vote. "It’s disappointing to me that my colleagues want to take a step backwards."

Only four states still use the chair — Alabama, Virginia, Florida and South Carolina, The Post reported, citing data from the Death Penalty Information Center; Kentucky and Tennessee allow use of the chair for crimes committed before 1998. All use the chair for inmates who request it.

The electric chair was last used in Virginia in January 2013, when Robert Gleason Jr. chose to die by electrocution, the first prisoner since 2010 to do so.

The National Journal reports that as lethal injection drugs become harder to come by — European manufacturers won’t sell them and a big U.S. supplier halted production in 2011 — states are increasingly considering alternates.

In Wyoming, for example, a lawmaker last week proposed a return to the firing squad because it is "the cheapest [option] for the state," CBS News reported.

And NPR reported last week that Missouri lawmakers are considering the reintroduction of firing squads, which its sponsor noted were "no less humane than lethal injection," prompting Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill to tweet: "Not my state's finest moment."

The Journal reported most states are either turning to "secret compounding pharmacies" to get the needed drugs or using untested lethal-injection cocktails.

Ohio executed Dennis McGuire last week with a two-drug protocol that reportedly left the convicted murderer and rapist writhing in pain for 10 minutes.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Journal the Virginia proposal and others are "mostly symbolic" attempts to make access to necessary lethal drugs easier for states.

"There are plenty of drugs to kill people with," Dieter told the Journal. "What states don't want is a lot of interference. These are statements aimed at courts or regulators to allow lethal injections."

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