Tennessee bill to bring back electric chair headed to governor

NASHVILLE, Tennessee Thu Apr 17, 2014 1:56pm EDT

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Tennessee's electric chair, last used in 2007, would become a state option for executions under a bill approved on Thursday by lawmakers looking for alternatives if drugs for lethal injections become unavailable.

Tennessee senators voted on Thursday to give the measure final approval and send it to Republican Governor Bill Haslam, who has endorsed the death penalty in general terms.

Haslam will review the legislation when it arrives at his desk, a spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The bill follows other similar proposals from various U.S. states that are responding to increased difficulty in obtaining drugs for lethal injections because many pharmaceutical firms, mainly in Europe, object to their use in executions.

Lawmakers in Missouri and Wyoming proposed adding firing squads as an execution method earlier this year.

Lethal injection is the primary execution method in all states that have capital punishment, but some states allow inmates the option of electrocution, hanging, firing squad or the gas chamber as alternate methods.

The Tennessee bill would give the state the option and likely would be challenged on the grounds that electrocution by today's standards is unconstitutionally cruel compared with lethal injection, said Richard Dieter, executive director for the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks executions.

"There certainly have been some gruesome electrocutions in the past and that would weigh on courts' minds," Dieter said in an interview on Wednesday.

Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. has issued an advisory opinion that electrocution is constitutionally defensible as an execution method.

Tennessee last executed an inmate in 2009 and the next execution is scheduled for October. The state corrections department has said it is confident of being able to secure drugs when needed. It has also said its electric chair is operational.

(Editing by David Bailey and Matthew Lewis)

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