TN governor says electric chair could serve as execution backup - WSMV Channel 4

TN governor says electric chair could serve as execution backup

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is speaking out about his decision to sign a bill reviving the electric chair.

Haslam says the Supreme Court does not consider electrocution to be cruel or inhumane, and he says it's a necessary backup if the supply of the state's lethal injection drug begins to dwindle away.

For years, prisoners on death row in Tennessee could expect lethal injection, but they also had the right to choose if they wanted the electric chair.

Under the bill signed into law Thursday, the choice is now up to the state, which says it will automatically use electrocution when drugs aren't available.

"The legislature felt very strongly we needed to have some sort of backup in case the drugs for the lethal injections weren't available," Haslam said.

In September, the Tennessee Department of Correction decided to use a single drug for lethal injections called pentobarbital.

However, in recent years, there's been a shortage of pentobarbital after the drug's European manufacturer, Lundbeck, decided it didn't want it used for executions. Lundbeck halted the supply being sent to prisons in the United States.

"The idea that in this society, in this day and age where we are awashed in medications, that there is not a drug that they can create to kill somebody is absurd," said Nashville criminal defense attorney David Raybin.

Raybin helped write Tennessee's death penalty law back in the 1970s. The last electrocution in Tennessee was performed on his client, Daryl Holton, in 2007.

"The man had to walk his last mile, as it were, and was bound up, placed in this chair. Sponges were put on his head. Water was dripping down his face for connectivity for the electrodes. It was like the electric chair was crying," Raybin said.

Holton's was the first electrocution in the state in nearly 50 years.

"This is a barbaric, medieval kind of torture. We do not need that kind of method of execution in Tennessee. I don't think we need to go backwards in this. We're better than that," Raybin said.

The state hasn't executed anyone since 2009 because of a shortage of lethal injection drugs, but there are execution dates set for 10 men through November 2015.

Haslam said Friday there is a lot of speculation as to what could happen. Right now, TDOC says there is not a shortage of the lethal injection drug, and when they need it, they are confident they can get it.

And the governor says he wasn't sure if the new law could apply to prisoners who are already on death row, and said it would have to be a case-by-case basis.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision cruel Friday, and Raybin says once someone faces mandatory electrocution, there will certainly be appeals.

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