Death by Electric Chair Is Making a Comeback

Electric Chair

For many years executions have been accomplished by lethal injection, abandoning the gruesome and traumatizing past of mandatory electric chair induced deaths. Though, with lethal injection drugs experiencing complications and shortages, states are considering other methods of killing death-row inmates. Firing squads have been contemplated, and Tennessee is reinstating its use of the controversial chair of years prior. Due to shortage of lethal drugs and an unsure death-row future, the electric chair may just be making a comeback.

The last death-row inmate to die from chair electrocution in Tennessee, surprisingly by request, was Daryl Holton in 2007. Many deemed the man insane because he had chosen this painful death and shot all four of his children- the reason he was in the predicament to begin with. To choose death by chair does seem irrational for many reasons. The electric chair has been sparsely used years prior to the 2007 execution, specifically 47 years prior to Holton, due to ample technical failures and overall negative sentiment of the gory bodily remains.

Death by electric chair was developed in America, with the first execution in 1890. Up until the 1980’s electric chair executions were the most popular death sentence for death-row inmates. Today, eight states still give inmates the choice of death by chair but none require the sentence, until now. Tennessee is making death by electric chair mandatory in the event that lethal injection drugs are short, possibly paving the way for other states to adopt the murder method and fueling the chairs’ comeback. Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee signed the proposal into law, which has outraged many people who are concerned that requiring electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment, violating Eighth Amendment rights of inmates.

Lethal injections are commonly a cocktail of drugs which are too often incapable of quickly and painlessly killing death-row inmates. There have been numerous incidents when inmates injected with the drugs took longer than normal to die, some writhing in acute pain for forty-five minutes before succumbing to the dose. Different cocktails have been concocted in an effort to find a quickly lethal mix. A main ingredient in many lethal injection cocktails- sodium thiopental- was discontinued in 2009, which is why officials have basically experimented with other lethal drug combinations. Just this month experts have urged prison officials to rely on a single drug for executions, rather than a cocktail which produces unknown results.

The availability of one single, legal and lethal drug is currently undetermined. Because of this unknown, Tennessee’s reinstated, mandatory use of the electric chair for death-row inmates may be exercised soon. A national expert on capital punishment, Deborah W. Denno, is concerned about the predetermined failures of the electric chair. According to Denno and the timeline of execution methods, use of the electric chair is a regression. The electric chair was replaced with lethal gas, later followed by lethal injection, because the chair would yield extremely unfavorable results. The chair, when performed correctly, renders its victim immediately unconscious, killing them with a jolt. However, this desired outcome was not always reached, causing the victim to remain alive while their body is thrashed like a rag doll.

Death by electric chair is a very controversial topic. Its use is archaic and requiring its method may indeed violate inmates’ Eighth Amendment rights. Despite these issues Tennessee has officially reinstated its use of the electric chair, which may encourage this method to make a comeback.

By Courtney Heitter

Civil Liberty
NY Times

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