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February 10, 2017

Mississippi taking steps to have firing squad, electric chair and gas chamber as execution methods again

As reported in this new Fox News piece, "Mississippi lawmakers want to bring back the firing squad, electric chair and gas chamber as execution methods, a step three other states have taken recently, but for a different reason." Here is more:

Oklahoma reintroduced the gas chamber, Utah the firing squad and Tennessee the electric chair in response to a nationwide scarcity of lethal injection drugs for death row inmates.

Mississippi legislator Andy Gipson said he introduced House Bill 638 in response to lawsuits filed by “liberal, left-wing radicals” challenging the use of lethal injection drugs as cruel and unusual punishment. "I have a constituent whose daughter was raped and killed by a serial killer over 25 years ago, and that person's still waiting for the death penalty. The family is still waiting for justice," Gipson told the Associated Press.

Gipson’s bill passed the House Wednesday, 74-43, and moves to the Senate for more debate.

Mississippi hasn't been able to acquire the execution drugs it once used, and it last carried out an execution in 2012. The state has 47 people on death row, and some have been there for decades.

The 33 states with the death penalty all have lethal injection as the primary method of execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center and its executive director, Robert Dunham. The center says only Oklahoma and Utah have firing squads as an option; eight states have electrocution, five have the gas chamber, and three have hanging.

The firing squad became an option in Utah in 2015. That same year, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation to use nitrogen gas as an option. Tennessee enacted a law bringing back the electric chair in 2014.

“It’s interesting that what we anticipated would happen is happening,” Dunham told FoxNews.com Friday. “As states are having difficulty obtaining drugs for lethal injections, they’re looking at different options.” He expects legal challenges in states that reintroduce old execution methods. “What you will see is when states change their method of execution, there are invariably legal challenges that arise,” Dunham said.

Jim Craig, an attorney who is suing Mississippi over lethal injection drugs, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that each of the proposed new methods of executions would be challenged in court. "Every single one, in essence, just injects a whole new series of issues in the existing case," said Craig, who is with the New Orleans-based Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center. He said with the firing squad, for example, the state would have to set protocols and procedures to reduce the risk of torture, and he doubts the Department of Corrections has prepared to do that....

Oklahoma officials told Fox 25 in November they haven’t established protocols to use nitrogen gas as a backup execution method but have heard from a company offering pain-free and mistake-free gas chamber executions. The company sent a letter to Oklahoma Department of Corrections guaranteeing the “demise of any mammalian life within four minutes,” according to the station.

February 10, 2017 at 12:58 PM | Permalink


"I have a constituent whose daughter was raped and killed by a serial killer over 25 years ago, and that person's still waiting for the death penalty. The family is still waiting for justice,"

Hey, but as Joe says, the victims issues with the delays are a wash.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 10, 2017 2:35:04 PM

My family is divided on the death penalty. If I was murdered, how should legislators determine what my family understands as "justice"?

Anyway, delays come for a variety of reasons, and many people as the delays went by were released, their death sentences converted for a variety of reasons to life (see, e.g., "Death On Hold," an account of a murderer who got off death row in part with the help of two conservative academics) and so forth. A quicker penalty would result in some of these people being executed, in some cases even though later the sentence was deemed illegitimate, at times on innocence grounds.

This doesn't make victims feel much better, but it shows how justice is complicated. Again, I don't claim to be stating overly profound things, just basic ones that people seem to be reminded of a lot.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 10, 2017 4:00:06 PM

And as I've explained Joe, the idea that victims' interests are a wash (which you imply, but never come out and say) is preposterous. First of all, SCOTUS has specifically (and unanimously) stated that victims have an interest in the timely enforcement of a death sentence. ("Timely," of course, presupposes that valid innocence issues are dealt with, and you are completely disingenuous for suggesting that my desire for death sentences to be carried out means that I don't believe that legitimate innocence issues should be addressed.) Second, those victims that support the death penalty are dragged through hell when last-minute stays are granted, and that hell is not at all comparable to someone who opposes the death penalty. I cannot imagine the pain of a child who lost a parent waiting patiently for justice, only to have some BS stay issued. (And we can confidently say that they are BS---you never seem to be able to defend on the legal merits.)

Once again, I call you out on your sophistry, and you serve up pablum that doesn't really get to the point.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 10, 2017 4:28:30 PM

Prof. Berman, sorry to have heard about the murder of an OSU student today. My heart goes out to the OSU community, of which you are a member.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 10, 2017 5:54:55 PM

Fed. Eagle Scout, and great guy, who liked to help people. Taken by a lawyer protected, privileged, and empowered criminal.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 10, 2017 8:24:25 PM

Here is another wonderful female OSU student taken from us. Shot down like a dog.


Posted by: David Behar | Feb 10, 2017 8:27:59 PM

Lawyer Clients: 2; Great College kids: 0.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 10, 2017 11:15:44 PM

My point, which obviously went over the head of someone, was that the wackier the execution method the greater will be the number who decide it's time to close down the death penalty. Bring it on. Proof - the latest poll in Utah (residents preferred life-sentence alternatives over capital punishment by a margin of 35 percentage points. 47% said they preferred life in prison without parole, plus a requirement that the convicted person work in prison to pay restitution to the victims; 9% selected life in prison without parole; 8% chose life in prison with a possibility of parole after 40 years; and 29% preferred the death penalty. The preference for alternatives held true across political party, religion, age, gender, and race. The poll also found that a majority (53%) of Utahns said they would strongly or somewhat support a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole)

Posted by: peter | Feb 11, 2017 9:20:20 AM

Peter. Which would you prefer for yourself?

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 11, 2017 10:03:15 AM

I know that my beloved Guillotine will make a comeback. In the meantime, pass me the knitting needles.

Posted by: Madame De Farge | Feb 11, 2017 10:26:22 AM

I do not find "the idea that victims' interests are a wash" an appropriate summary of my views though I admit that it's hard to tell what exactly it means.

federalist's opening quote cited a legislator stating the feelings of a single victim's parent and family. I ask again. My family has mixed feelings about the death penalty. If I was murdered, how would one determine what we think is "justice"? A murder was in the news some years ago here. The brothers of the victim split on the appropriate penalty.

Appeals to the feelings of single victims only take us so far and federalist's remarks -- pushing past the vitriol -- underline it. He accepts (and this is not denied) the need for due process and how timely death sentences are but "an" interest, one balanced with others. As I noted, not refuted among the vitriol and labeling, during the long appeals processes etc., a range of people get off death row for a variety of reasons.

The length of time isn't painless to victims etc. Obviously. But, "justice" includes things that hurts people in some fashion. So, yet again, and I'm not saying anything profound here but if people keep on ignoring it I'll keep on repeating myself, the ultimate question is a matter of degree. What protections, all that will hurt someone in some fashion (e.g., need of children to confront their tormentors face-to-face in court, which Scalia et. al. said was constitutionally required) are necessary here?

Finally, yes, "justice" might not warrant the death penalty at all. Personally, as a I whole, I think the death penalty works against justice, including for people who are victims of murder.

It is argued that "that hell is not at all comparable to someone who opposes the death penalty." I don't know anyone in this position personally, but I find that somewhat unclear. Many victims have lives to worry about and mourning to do that concerns them a lot more than the state of appeals processes. Meanwhile, if someone is against the death penalty, they can have a strong opposition to what they deemed unjust killings, including if they think it would damn the memory of the victim. I'm not going to try to judge "hells" among victims, but if you wish to do so, it's your choice.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 11, 2017 11:52:47 AM

Joe, just stop. You always raise the "what about those victims who don't like the DP"--to try to take away from the fact that jerking around those who have been patiently waiting is just awful.

Here's another victim of enlightened sentencing: http://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/breaking-arrest-made-in-murder-of-reagan-tokes

Posted by: federalist | Feb 11, 2017 1:16:36 PM

Joe. Duterte is coming. Boo.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 11, 2017 8:56:06 PM

"Joe, just stop. You always raise the "what about those victims who don't like the DP"--to try to take away from the fact that jerking around those who have been patiently waiting is just awful."

federalist doesn't much want to substantively answer my points, which is his right.

My citation of those victims -- federalist cares about victims so I'm sure he cares about all of them -- tends to be in response to arguments like this legislator who selectively cites their needs and desires.

And, overall, I don't think some sort of "The Lottery" execution of a few murderers [which seems to be the desire of the general population; they show no major desire to execute even hundreds of people a year] in a flawed system actually is in the best interests of victims either. Yes, many victims themselves have voiced this sentiment as did others who often have direct involvement with them. If federalist et. al. want to voice the interests of victims, it seems to me that these voices count too.

Finally, federalist clearly himself shows the various "interests" at play here, interests that include things that will hurt victims in some fashion. This is not about 'jerking' anyone around as such. It's the proper amount of procedures etc. required, which in some way will "jerk" around like law in all ways does in some sense. I'd add that by now that it's clear how the system works, and people are well aware of how extended appeals etc.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2017 12:06:40 PM

tl;dr -- so, no, I don't think "it's a wash" really is a great way to express my views

If anything, I think the interests of victims are harmed by the death penalty. As to the feelings of victims regarding delays, there are a range of feelings there. Simplification like "it cancels out" isn't how I'd phrase my opinion.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 12, 2017 12:08:51 PM

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