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Ga. death row inmate wants firing squad, not lethal injection

The inmate alleges it would be unconstitutionally cruel for him to die by lethal injection

Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison

A death row inmate at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson is seeking execution by firing squad instead of lethal injection. A trial in his case against the prison’s warden and the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections began in Atlanta on Monday. (Natrice Miller/


By Rosie Manins
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — A death row inmate who fatally shot a man while fleeing from a bank robbery in Gwinnett County wants to become the first person in Georgia’s modern history to be legally executed by firing squad.

Michael Nance, 62, appeared before a federal judge in Atlanta on Monday as trial began in his case alleging it would be unconstitutionally cruel for him to die by lethal injection. Nance claims his deteriorated veins and prolonged exposure to back pain medication mean the state’s lethal injection procedure won’t work as intended. In comparison, death by firing squad would be “both swift and virtually painless,” he said in case filings.

“The (lethal injection) protocol and how it’s administered create a risk that his veins will blow,” Anna Arceneaux, an attorney for Nance, said during opening arguments. “Across the country numerous execution teams have struggled to get IV access, leading to botched executions. There’s substantial risk that the next botched execution could very well be Mr. Nance’s.”

Sabrina Graham, an attorney for the state, said none of the 25 lethal injections in Georgia using the drug pentobarbital involved complications or any evidence the inmates were in pain. She said Nance has thrice had an intravenous line placed inside a vein over the last 18 months and that the corrections staff who administer lethal injections are competent.

“It’s not rocket science, your honor,” Graham told the judge. “It’s just pushing a plunger at a slow steady pace with a physician there watching.”

Georgia executed an inmate in March, following a four-year hiatus. The state’s execution method switched from electrocution to lethal injection in 2000. Between 1735 to 1924, the legal method of execution in Georgia was hanging, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Nance, convicted of killing Gabor Balogh in 1993, has been fighting since 2020 to die by firing squad. He appeared frail on Monday, unable to walk across the courtroom without assistance from a corrections officer.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee will determine whether the execution of Nance by lethal injection would violate his rights under the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Nance’s case essentially puts Georgia’s lethal injection method on trial.

Arceneaux said there are several ways in which the state’s lethal injection protocol doesn’t meet medical or clinical standards, including the fact that those administering the fatal drug do so from a separate room. Tubing connected to the inmate’s veins passes through holes in a wall, increasing the risk of the drug being partially or inconsistently administered, she said.

There is no contingency plan if things go wrong, Arceneaux said.

Graham pushed back, saying the state has a step-by-step protocol that doctors, nurses and corrections staff are trained for. She said inmates who receive a lethal injection of pentobarbital become deeply sedated or unconscious within about 30 seconds and die within minutes.

“They take a deep breath, they yawn and they go to sleep,” she said. “(Nance) hasn’t shown that lining someone up and filling them with bullets is less painful.”

Nance is using Utah’s firing squad protocol as an example of what could be possible in Georgia. Utah last executed an inmate by firing squad in 2010.

Emergency physician James Williams testified Monday that an inmate executed by firing squad would be unconscious within a few seconds of being shot and wouldn’t feel pain other than a “powerful blow.” Williams said he was shot in the chest with a pistol when he was 18 and that it initially felt like a hard tackle. He said the area around a bullet wound is typically numb and tingling while nerves are “stunned,” then becomes painful after several hours.

Nance’s trial, which does not involve a jury, is expected to last six days. The judge is unlikely to decide the case immediately at the close of testimony.

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