Death row inmates in Tennessee are suing to stop the state from using the electric chair as its backup execution method. Papers filed Friday argue that the state’s testing method for the chair is inadequate and that electrocution does not necessarily cause instantaneous death. “A prisoner that remains alive, conscious, and sensate for some period of time during an electrocution execution will experience excruciating pain and suffering,” the suit says.
In May, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law allowing prison officials to use the electric chair when unable to get drugs for lethal injections, making it the only state that forces electrocution on inmates; other states allow the condemned to choose the chair. “Tennessee took a huge step back when it reinstated the electric chair,” federal public defender Kelley Henry said, noting that courts in Nebraska and Georgia have already declared the method unconstitutional. The Tennessee attorney general’s office said it was reviewing the court papers and had no immediate comment.
Why is Tennessee using the electric chair as a backup?
Like many states, Tennessee has had difficulty obtaining the chemicals it needs for lethal injections; it has not been able to carry out an execution since 2009 because of drug shortages.
Although the Department of Correction says it is confident it will be able to secure the deadly doses for the 10 men with execution dates, politicians are apparently not as sure.
They drafted a bill that would make the electric chair the automatic backup method, and the governor signed it Thursday night. Previously, electrocution was used only if an inmate convicted before 1999 chose it.
Does Tennessee actually have an electric chair?
The state’s original chair — dubbed Old Sparky — was reportedly crafted from the gallows where inmates used to be hanged.
Department of Correction spokeswoman Neysa Taylor refused to answer any questions about the current chair, but a 2007 state report detailed its history.
In 1989, it was rebuilt and outfitted with a new electricity-delivery system by Fred Leuchter, a self-styled execution specialist who was labeled a Holocaust denier by the Anti-Defamation League.
Later, electrical engineer Jay Weichert put in modifications and helped the Correction Department decide on the settings: 1,750 volts at 7 amps cycled on for 20 seconds, off for 20 seconds and on for 15 seconds.
The current chair was first used in 2007 for the execution of Daryl Holton, who shot his four children. Days before, Leuchter claimed it would not work properly and would torture the inmate, but the medical examiner said Holton’s death was quick and unremarkable.
The chair is “fully operational.”
Via NBC News