NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday signed a bill allowing Tennessee to electrocute death row inmates when the state is unable to obtain lethal injection drugs.
With the governor’s signature, Tennessee becomes the first state to make it mandatory to use the electric chair when lethal injection drugs are unavailable, said Richard Dieter, the president of the Death Penalty Information Center.
“This is unusual and might be both cruel and unusual punishment,” he said.
Other states allow for use of the electric chair, but at the inmate’s discretion.
“No state says what Tennesse says. This is forcing the inmate to use electrocution,” according to Dieter, who believes “the inmate would have an automatic Eighth Amendment challenge.”
The amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishment.
“The electric chair is clearly a brutal alternative,” Deiter said.
Controversy over lethal injections has been brewing in recent years after European manufacturers, including the Denmark-based manufacturer of pentobarbital, banned U.S. prisons from using their drugs in executions.
In April a botched lethal injection in Oklahoma catapulted the issue back into the international spotlight. It was the state’s first time using a new, three-drug cocktail for an execution. Execution witnesses said convicted murderer and rapist Clayton Lockett convulsed and writhed on the execution gurney and struggled to speak, before officials blocked the witnesses’ view. Lockett died 43 minutes after being administered the first drug, CNN affiliate KFOR reported.
Earlier this year, a convicted murderer and rapist in Ohio, Dennis McGuire, appeared to gasp and convulse for at least 10 minutes before dying from the drug cocktail used in his execution.
In 2009, the U.S.-based manufacturer of sodium thiopental, a drug also commonly used in executions, stopped making the painkiller.
Many states have scrambled to find products from overseas or have used American-based compounding pharmacies to create substitutes.
This month, a group of criminal justice experts recommended that federal and state governments move to a single lethal drug for executions instead of complex cocktails that can be botched.