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States consider reviving old-fashioned executions

States Consider Reviving Firing Squads, Electrocutions, Gas Chambers




ST. LOUIS (AP) -- With lethal-injection drugs in short supply and new questions looming about their effectiveness, lawmakers in some death penalty states are considering bringing back relics of a more gruesome past: firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.

Most states abandoned those execution methods more than a generation ago in a bid to make capital punishment more palatable to the public and to a judicial system worried about inflicting cruel and unusual punishments that violate the Constitution.

But to some elected officials, the drug shortages and recent legal challenges are beginning to make lethal injection seem too vulnerable to complications.

"This isn't an attempt to time-warp back into the 1850s or the wild, wild West or anything like that," said Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin, who this month proposed making firing squads an option for executions. "It's just that I foresee a problem, and I'm trying to come up with a solution that will be the most humane yet most economical for our state."

Brattin, a Republican, said questions about the injection drugs are sure to end up in court, delaying executions and forcing states to examine alternatives. It's not fair, he said, for relatives of murder victims to wait years, even decades, to see justice served while lawmakers and judges debate execution methods.

Like Brattin, a Wyoming lawmaker this month offered a bill allowing the firing squad. Missouri's attorney general and a state lawmaker have raised the notion of rebuilding the state's gas chamber. And a Virginia lawmaker wants to make electrocution an option if lethal-injection drugs aren't available.

If adopted, those measures could return states to the more harrowing imagery of previous decades, when inmates were hanged, electrocuted or shot to death by marksmen.

States began moving to lethal injection in the 1980s in the belief that powerful sedatives and heart-stopping drugs would replace the violent spectacles with a more clinical affair while limiting, if not eliminating, an inmate's pain.

The total number of U.S. executions has declined in recent years - from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year. Some states have turned away from the death penalty entirely. Many have cases tied up in court. And those that carry on with executions find them increasingly difficult to conduct because of the scarcity of drugs and doubts about how well they work.

In recent years, European drug makers have stopped selling the lethal chemicals to prisons because they do not want their products used to kill.

At least two recent executions are also raising concerns about the drugs' effectiveness. Last week, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die by injection, gasping repeatedly as he lay on a gurney with his mouth opening and closing. And on Jan. 9, Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning."

Missouri threw out its three-drug lethal injection procedure after it could no longer obtain the drugs. State officials altered the method in 2012 to use propofol, which was found in the system of pop star Michael Jackson after he died of an overdose in 2009.

The anti-death penalty European Union threatened to impose export limits on propofol if it were used in an execution, jeopardizing the supply of a common anesthetic needed by hospitals across the nation. In October, Gov. Jay Nixon stayed the execution of serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin and ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to find a new drug.

Days later, the state announced it had switched to a form of pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy. Like other states, Missouri has refused to divulge where the drug comes from or who makes it.

Missouri has carried out two executions using pentobarbital - Franklin in November and Allen Nicklasson in December. Neither inmate showed outward signs of suffering, but the secrecy of the process resulted in a lawsuit and a legislative inquiry.

Michael Campbell, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said some lawmakers simply don't believe convicted murderers deserve any mercy.

"Many of these politicians are trying to tap into a more populist theme that those who do terrible things deserve to have terrible things happen to them," Campbell said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., cautioned that there could be a backlash.

"These ideas would jeopardize the death penalty because, I think, the public reaction would be revulsion, at least from many quarters," Dieter said.

Some states already provide alternatives to lethal injection. Condemned prisoners may choose the electric chair in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. An inmate named Robert Gleason Jr. was the most recent to die by electrocution, in Virginia in January 2013.

Arizona, Missouri and Wyoming allow for gas-chamber executions. Missouri no longer has a gas chamber, but Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, and Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican, last year suggested possibility rebuilding one. So far, there is no bill to do so.

Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington state still allow inmates to choose hanging. The last hanging in the U.S. was Billy Bailey in Delaware in 1996. Two prisoners in Washington state have chosen to be hanged since the 1990s - Westley Allan Dodd in 1993 and Charles Rodman Campbell in 1994.

Firing squads typically consisting of five sharpshooters with rifles, one of which is loaded with a blank so the shooters do not know for sure who fired the fatal bullet. They have been used mostly for military executions.

Since the end of the Civil War, there have been three civilian firing squad executions in the U.S., all in Utah. Gary Gilmore uttered his famous final words, "Let's do it" on Jan. 18, 1977, before his execution, which ended what amounted to a 17-year national moratorium on the death penalty. Convicted killers John Albert Taylor in 1996 and Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010 were also put to death by firing squad.

Utah is phasing out its use, but the firing squad remains an option there for inmates sentenced prior to May 3, 2004.

Oklahoma maintains the firing squad as an option, but only if lethal injection and electrocution are deemed unconstitutional.

In Wyoming, Republican state Sen. Bruce Burns said death by firing squad would be far less expensive than building a gas chamber. Wyoming has only one inmate on death row, 68-year-old convicted killer Dale Wayne Eaton. The state has not executed anyone in 22 years.

Jackson Miller, a Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, is sponsoring a bill that would allow for electrocution if lethal injection drugs are not available.

Miller said he would prefer that the state have easy access to the drugs needed for lethal injections. "But I also believe that the process of the justice system needs to be fulfilled."

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motorsteel94 January 29 2014 at 7:50 PM

ALL DEATH SENTENCE CRIMINALS SHOULD BE USED FOR AN INVOLUNTARY ORGAN DONOR PROGRAM ! HARVEST ANY AND ALL ORGANS NEEDED FEED ANY THING LEFT OVER , UN USED TO AN ALLIGATOR FARM .
ANY LIBERAL PROTESTORS ? LET THEM SWIM IN TO RESCUE THE CRIMINALS THEY WANT TO GRAND STAND ON !

REMEMBER TOOKIE WILLIAMS ! LIBERALS RALLIED
ARNOLD PUT THE SAVAGE DOWN : )

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dedndogyrs January 29 2014 at 8:18 AM

Now Nevada will go back to "executing" innocent animals to test its gas chamber before using it on murderers :(

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Charles January 29 2014 at 7:07 AM

HANG-UM Why should we have started "CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT"
Let them who choose to kill and mame people feel the pain that they caused their victim.
Let the ACLU know where to go and how to get there....

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Thomas January 29 2014 at 6:52 AM

Maybe if it was not so easy to get away with murder less of them might not happen.

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topwrenchauto January 29 2014 at 6:41 AM

If the legal system kills convicted prisoners in a gruesome manner, wouldn't that pervert the senses of everyone watching? How long will it be before these "righteous" abominations of justice end up on You Tube, perverting the senses of your own children? Do you want to awaken the blood lust in your own families? It's bad enough that you can't turn the TV on without seeing a vicious murder acted out. It really sounds like a lot of the people on this post are one break down short of being on the other side of the bench. I think we're missing the opportunity to find out exactly how a human animal can be brought to violence and murder. We all have a choice; to nurture the beast within or to nurture the holy spirit within. What makes a person murder. In what part of the brain does aggression present itself? Do we know? Will an MRI or CT study reveal an answer? Can it be prevented or reversed? You can not bring back the victim, no matter how much you torture the criminal. What next crucifixion? What about that small percentage of convicted persons who actually did not commit the crime and were wrongfully accused? PETA needs to get involved in this. Humans are animals too. If you must take a life, it should have absolutely no entertainment value. Perhaps an oxygen replacement system similar to the method used in the humane slaughter of livestock. Suggesting a firing squad or a hanging insinuates that the justice system is just as perverse as the criminal. There's no growth in that and certainly no science.

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Dannie & Sue January 29 2014 at 6:26 AM

We believe that if a person is convicted of murder with enough evidence to be beyond the shadow of a doubt, then the family of the victim should have a say in how long the courts can wait for their loved one's death to be attoned for. The victim, and victim's family were given no warnings, and no mercy when the victim's life was being taken, and they should see, just as quickly, justice done in the matter of relieving their burden of knowing the killer of their loved one is wasting this country's resources, while awaiting thier punishment. In many cases the victim's family members have died without ever seeing justice done for the killing and often torturing of thier loved one. In cases where confession, and abolute DNA, on scene witnesses, or other evidence exists of absolute certainty the killer is guilty, then swift justice should prevail within a year of the convition of the killer. It is cruel and unjust to make the victim's family wait through years of appeals, until justice can be had. A firing squad is quick, and as humane a justice as we can think of, with no one person being absolutely guilty of the killing of the criminal. Cruel and inhumane punishment is what the victim's families are suffering while waiting to see justice. Who really cares what the criminal wants? Did the criminal give the victims a say in how humane thier death would be? Really, if firing squad is good enough for the quick and humane death of soldiers, who served this country, it should be deemed good enough for civilian criminals, and just think of all those American tax dollars that could be saved, and given to the country to help the law abiding citizens see a swift justice. No 30 years and even longer in seeing justice. What about the cases like Charles Manson, Jeffery Dahmer, and others like them, who have wasted tax dollars for years, being given food, clothing and shelter and medical care for years, while the victim's familes only suffered outrage, pain, and in some cases poverty, and even sickness, over waiting to see justice. Some victim's immediate family and loved ones die before ever seeing the criminal pay for the killing of thier loved one. Just shoot the criminals at a private building where only the executioners and supervisors of the execution of a criminal are present. No one else needs to see, they just need to know justice was served. It is cruel and inhumane to let family members of the killers watch, as it will be in thier mind for the rest of thier lives. Let the healing begin with a quick notice of the criminal's death, to the families of both criminal and victim. That way all involved in the matter can move on with thier lives.

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dedndogyrs January 29 2014 at 8:15 AM

Actually even DNA may not be absolutely 100% accurate because in the recent past identical twins (who have the same DNA) who were given up for adoption were separated with the intention that they would never know each other existed. The adoptive parents didn't know either. I heard that this did cause someone to be wrongfully arrested for his brother's crime but the mistake was found out. The reason only one of the twins became a criminal was because he grew up in foster homes and orphanages while the other twin grew up in a good and loving home. It was a travesty put upon these children, and also led to fraternal twins marrying each other and having to get a divorce.

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Julie January 29 2014 at 6:23 AM

Harvest their organs if they are usable, provide life for others since they were sentenced to die. Put them on a list of matches needed and just take the organs. Some may think this is crazy, well if you were on a waiting list for an organ and the state was going to take the life why not harvest the organs. These "death row" sentenaces are not going to be reversed, these inmates are going to be executed so put them under and take what is needed.....They should have no rights...PERIOD Hell Obamacare will probably cover the procedure, like Pelosi said, "We must pass this bill to see whats in it"

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Skip January 29 2014 at 11:36 AM

Need a kidney, heart, lungs or liver? Try China where they do just that. Convicted criminals are used for just such purposes. Unfortunately, from what we know of the justice system there some prisons are organ farms housing prisoners deemed "a danger to the state" for indeterminate periods then executed, harvested and discarded. Given our justice system is more refined but we've already seen what huge economic pressure can do to our political system. Do you think the health care and prison systems would be any less vulnerable to ethical collapse?

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corvairscott January 29 2014 at 6:01 AM

I say put an end to lethal injections and bring back hanging!
Firing squad was deemed not to be cruel or unusual by the Supreme Court.
Serial Killer Ted Bundy was electrocuted after years on death row. Before that
he had escaped prison custody twice and gone on to kill more women. These
people on death row are dangerous to fellow inmates and prison guards.

Here in California we have 731 inmates on death row, the most in the nation.
The cost to CA is $4 billion since 1978 with only 13 inmates executed.

Get a rope!

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gmartin997 January 29 2014 at 5:46 AM

The guillotine. It's quick, painless and precise. It also creates fear and dread in the hearts of the most vile criminals. It's a definite deterrent to crime.

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Charles January 29 2014 at 7:10 AM

I agree PUNISH THEM IN PUBLIC NOT BEHIND WALLS.

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farmout56 January 29 2014 at 5:39 AM

Why are we dependent on european drug makers? Sounds like a great business opportunity. It's not like you could be sued by the patient.

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