Ala. may consider bringing back electric chair

Lawmaker says he thinks the state will have to return to electric chair if it won't give complete immunity to the makers of lethal injection drugs

By Mary Sell
The Decatur Daily

MONTGOMERY — A north Alabama lawmaker says he thinks the state will have to return to using the electric chair to execute death row inmates if it won't give complete immunity to the makers of lethal injection drugs.

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said he will discuss on Monday with department of corrections officials and the state district attorneys association the possibility of bringing back the electric chair as the state's primary method of executions. If needed, Greer said he will carry legislation for the change in the next session.

In 2002, Alabama switched from the electric chair to lethal injection as the state's primary form of capital punishment. Inmates can still request the chair, but executions have been on hold this year, since the state ran out of one of the three drugs in its lethal injection mixture.

"We don't have the drugs," Greer said Wednesday. "You'd have to be dumb to choose the electric chair."

Currently, 16 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals are awaiting execution. But the state Department of Corrections doesn't have the drug pentobarbital to carry out the death sentences.

Death-penalty states have scrambled in recent years to find alternatives to drugs used previously for executions but are now in short supply because of opposition to capital punishment.

In this year's legislative session, Greer proposed legislation that would have made confidential the names of the lethal-injection drug suppliers. Greer has said states are having trouble obtaining the drugs because pharmacies fear lawsuits and backlash from death penalty opponents.

But other lawmakers, including Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, have said they oppose complete immunity for lethal injection drug makers.

On Wednesday, Ward told The Daily that lethal injection executions won't resume until next year, after lawmakers pass some sort of limited protection for the pharmaceutical companies.

"There will be some secrecy for the companies, but it won't be complete secrecy," he said. "What they want is to keep their name hidden from the general public. I don't believe that anyone should have complete immunity."

Greer said he talked to Ward this week about the issue and doesn't think what Ward is suggesting is enough to get the drugs.

"I don't think they will do it unless we give them immunity," he said.

Rep. Greg Burdine, D-Florence, said he would be opposed to the state reverting back to the electric chair.

"If it were the best means (of execution), we would still be doing it," he said. "We wouldn't have gotten away from it."

He thinks that something can be worked out with drug manufacturers — or perhaps a government agency can make lethal injection compounds for states.

"How hard can that be?" he said.

Copyright 2014 The Decatur Daily 

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