Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill into law making Tennessee the first state to mandate use of an electric chair for execution when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The legislation passed by a landslide with a 23-3 vote in Senate and a 68-13 vote in the House.
Recently, after European suppliers of lethal injections boycotted the U.S. from using their drugs for executions, controversy began to stir over the method and alternatives. U.S. companies manufacturing lethal drugs have begun to shut down to avoid being associated with support of the death penalty as well. The 32 states that still implement the death penalty are struggling to find or create injection substitutes.
After a failed lethal injection execution in Oklahoma this April, the issue of fair executions became prominent again. With the unavailability of stronger European drugs, the state attempted to use a new, “three-drug cocktail” to execute convicted rapist and murderer, Clayton Lockett.
According to witnesses, after injection, the man attempted to speak and convulsed on the table. It took almost 45 minutes after being injected with the drug for Lockett to be declared dead by an apparent heart attack according to a CNN affiliate in Oklahoma City. A similar botched “three-drug cocktail” injection occurred in Ohio with the convicted Dennis McGuire, who convulsed for over 10 minutes before dying.
These instances created controversy over the method, and states implementing the death penalty are scrambling to find alternatives. Currently, eight states use the electric chair, yet this method is only used at the discretion of the inmate. With the governor’s new law, Tennessee is the first state to force electrocution in the event that lethal injection is not possible.
This method is widely considered a violation of the Eighth Amendment. “This is unusual and might be both cruel and unusual punishment,” remarks president of the Death Penalty Information Center, Richard Dieter.
The electric chair has not been used in Tennessee since 2007, to execute convicted Daryl Holton, Gulf War veteran who murdered his sons and stepdaughter with a rifle in 1997. Prior, the chair had not been used for 47 years.
Image Credit: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg