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As Lethal Injection Drugs Dry Up, Virginia Reconsiders the Electric Chair | The Nation

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Steven Hsieh

Steven Hsieh

Stories that matter. Tips: shsieh@thenation.com.

As Lethal Injection Drugs Dry Up, Virginia Reconsiders the Electric Chair

Electric chair

(AP Images/Pat Sullivan)

Lawmakers are considering a proposal that could make Virginia the only state to force electrocution on death row inmates.

A bill introduced in Virginia’s General Assembly would grant prison officials permission to use the electric chair if lethal injection is not feasible, a growing likelihood as pharmaceutical companies restrict sales of lethal drugs to US prison services. Virginia currently gives inmates the choice between lethal injection and electrocution.

Delegate Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) sponsored the bill, which received approval from a House subcommittee on Friday. Delegate Scott Surovel (D-Fairfax County) introduced another bill that would ban use of the electric chair.

“Electrocution cannot do what it does without mutilating a person,” Surovell argued to the subcommittee, as reported by The Virginian-Pilot. “It causes burns. It causes organs to cook…. There are documented cases of people smoking, of blood coming out of people, of people catching on fire.”

Robert Deiter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told The Nation, “The electric chair as a forced method would certainly be cruel and unusual in the current standards of decency. This is something we’ve passed on. We don’t hang people, and we don’t electrocute them.”

Delegate Miller said the bill reaffirms Virginia’s commitment to the death penalty, as supplies of lethal injection drugs become increasingly scarce. Danish-based Lundbeck, the main supplier of the sedative pentobarbital, restricted use of its drugs for capital punishment in 2011.

Virginia currently has eight inmates on death row, on the lower end for states with capital punishment.

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The last Virginian to be put to death by electric chair was Robert Gleason in January 2013, according to a database of US executions kept by the Death Penalty Information Center. Gleason was sentenced to life in prison for a 2008 murder; he was given the death penalty for strangling two inmates while serving his time. South Carolina oversaw the last electrocution to take place outside of Virginia, where the state executed James Reed in June 2008 for murdering two people.

Last week, shortages of pentobarbital lead Ohio officials to try an untested concoction of lethal drugs to execute inmate Dennis McGuire, convicted of rape and aggravated murder. Dennis reportedly choked and gasped for several minutes during the unusually long twenty-five-minute procedure. The McGuire family plans to file a lawsuit, claiming his execution amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell on the death penalty’s “slow demise.”

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