Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Death penalty opponents lost a battle this week when a House committee endorsed a bill to make electrocution the default punishment if lethal injection is unavailable.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty opposed House Bill 815, which would allow the Virginia Department of Corrections to use the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable. The House Courts of Justice Committee voted 14-7 in favor of the measure on Wednesday. It is now before the full House of Delegates.
“There is no humane way to kill another human being,” said Michael Stone, the executive director of VADP. His group advocates for life in prison without parole as the maximum penalty for capital murder.
Stone fears that HB 815 will clear the House and go on to pass the Senate. He said it would be a step backward.
“There have been a number of botched electrocutions in Virginia,” Stone said. “In one case, a man caught on fire when he was being executed.”
Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has supported four methods for carrying out executions: lethal injection, electrocution, firing squad and the gas chamber. The most common method by far is lethal injection.
In recent years, a number of states have adopted laws to designate a default method for execution if there is trouble obtaining lethal drugs. Two years ago, Tennessee passed a bill specifying electrocution as its default. Last year, Utah adopted the firing squad as its default, and Oklahoma passed asphyxiation as its fallback execution method if legal drugs are not available for the injection.
Virginia is one of eight states that have electric chairs available for executions if death-row prisoners choose it.
Inmates who have been sentenced to death in Virginia have a choice between lethal injection and electrocution. If prisoners don’t make a choice at least 15 days before the scheduled execution, they receive the injection.
This is the third year in a row that this bill has been introduced. To those who oppose the death penalty, this would absolutely be a step backwards.
I used to oppose it, back when I was a young psychology major, fresh out of college. I soon found out what miserable, human beings were out there, preying on others and I reformed. That is not to say that I am cavalier about the death penalty. I know that poor people don’t get fair representation. I know that people are wrongfully convicted. I probably wouldn’t want to execute anyone without strong DNA evidence or some other nearly irrefutable proof.
On the other hand, lethal injection is becoming iffy. I don’t see why we can’t execute like we put our pets to sleep. Supposedly that is kind and humane. To date, no one has been able to explain to me why we can’t. However, that isn’t what is happening. Lethal injection drugs are in short supply because of political volatility.
It might very well be time to dust off Old Sparky and fire him up. There are some people who really do need to be put out of their misery. Currently those sentenced to death can choose between lethal injection and electrocution. This bill makes electrocution the default should lethal injection become unavailable.