Tennessee will be the first state in the country to bring back electrocutions – at least as a fall back method to unobtainable lethal injection drugs, which have become increasingly controversial on the national and international stage.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s confirmed to the Associated Press that he signed a bill to use the electric chair to carry out executions on time if the lethal injection method is not available
“The impetus of the bill was so that Tennessee, in cases where the death penalty is warranted and has properly gone through the judicial process, can carry out the death penalty in a humane way, so that justice is served,” state Rep. Joe Carr told TheBlaze.
The bill, which passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support, was introduced well before the botched execution in Oklahoma, where in April, convicted murderer Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after an apparent problem with the lethal injection drug cocktail at an Oklahoma City prison.
The botched execution prompted President Barack Obama to ask the Justice Department for a review of how executions are administered.
Though a contentious issue, 32 states have the death penalty, and all of them rely at least in part on lethal injection.
Richard Dieter, the executive director of the anti-capital punishment Death Penalty Information Center, told the AP that Tennessee is the first state to enact a law to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners an option. Though there are states — like Tennessee — that allow a death row inmate to choose electrocution over lethal injection.
A European-led boycott of drug sales to U.S. prisons has cause a shortage for states that are now low on the necessary drugs.
Lethal injection is the preferred execution method for the state. The chair would only be an alternative if lethal injection is not available under the new Tennessee law.
“It’s an alternative,” Carr explained. “The courts may determine without a the cocktail, we would not have an option for the death penalty.”
The state House of Representatives passed the electric chair bill by a vote of 68-13, and the Senate passed 23-3. Carr said there was very little debate. The bill, proposed on March 26, cleared the legislature by early April – before the Oklahoma execution.
A Vanderbilt University poll found 56 percent of registered voters in Tennessee support the use of the electric chair, while 37 percent opposed it.
Tennessee law previously gave inmates who committed crimes before 1999 the choice of lethal injection or electrocution. But crimes after 1999 required lethal injection. The last time a Tennessee inmate opted for electrocution was 2007.