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February 15, 2016

Might Virginia go back to the electric chair to try to complete an execution scheduled for next month?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent Washington Post article headlined "Lacking lethal injection drugs, Va. might turn to the electric chair." Here is how the article begins:

Virginia lawmakers are mulling a bill that would allow state officials to use the electric chair to execute those on death row when lethal-injection drugs are not available — a measure that might be needed to put an inmate to death next month.

The legislation passed the Virginia House of Delegates last week, though it still must clear the Senate, which it has failed to do in the past.  But this year might be different because an inmate is scheduled for execution in March, and prison officials say they do not have the sedatives they need to do it.  “It’s our job to help carry out what they have decided in a court of law,” said Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas), who introduced the bill.

The proposal again thrusts Virginia to the center of a national debate on how the justice system should deal with those it has determined deserve to die. Historically, states turned away from the electric chair, believing lethal injection to be quicker, less painful and less likely to be declared cruel and unusual punishment, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.  Now — with the needed drugs in short supply — they are being forced to look at alternatives, sometimes turning to practices that have fallen out of favor, Dunham said.

“The irony is they’re looking for alternatives to lethal injection because lethal injection may be found to be cruel and unusual, or because lethal injection drugs are becoming harder for states to lay their hands on,” Dunham said. “It’s pretty clear that states that adopt electrocution as the method of execution are going to face very serious constitutional challenges.”

Virginia is one of eight states that already allow electrocution as a method of execution, letting inmates choose between it and lethal injection. The next inmate slated to die, Ricky Gray, has not yet picked a method.  What will happen at his March 16 execution — or if it will go on as planned — remains unclear.

Gray, 38, was convicted in 2006 of brutally killing a Richmond musician, his wife, and their 9- and 4-year-old daughters. He picked the family because he spotted their door open and decided to rob them, court documents say.  The documents say Gray also confessed to killing his wife, Treva Terrell Gray, and three members of another Richmond family. In urging his colleagues to pass the bill, Miller gave a lengthy and graphic description of Gray’s crimes and asked legislators to help the victims’ families “get the justice that they deserve and that our justice system has determined they deserve.”

“This isn’t expanding the death penalty, but the case I just told you about is exactly why we have this punishment on our books,” he said.

Marna Squires, the mother of Gray’s wife, said she does not care what method is used.  “I’d love to be there and lay him down on the gurney and put the needle in him if they’d let me,” Squires said.

Executions by electrocution are far less common than those by lethal injection, though they are not unheard of. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 158 people have been executed by electrocution since 1976, compared with 1,252 by lethal injection. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia permit the practice in theory, according to data from the center, though each state has different rules. The last inmate to pick electrocution in Virginia was Robert Gleason Jr., who was given a life sentence for killing someone to cover up his involvement in a drug gang, then death for killing two fellow inmates behind bars. He was executed in 2013.

Courts in Georgia and Nebraska have ruled that electrocution violates their state constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, according to the center.

February 15, 2016 at 12:35 PM | Permalink

Comments

Hang em high. On the courthouse plaza. On Sunday right after church. If you are gonna be a bear then be a grizzly. End all this weeny way of killing humans.

Posted by: JackMehoff | Feb 15, 2016 1:05:30 PM

I can't imagine the governor signing a law like this. He'll sign off on executions authorized by law, but this would be politically unpalatable by democrats and moderates so he'd be on much safer ground saying no.

Posted by: Erik M | Feb 19, 2016 4:15:45 PM

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