US & Canada

Tennessee enacts law allowing use of electric chair

Undated file photo of electric chair in Tennessee state prison Image copyright AP
Image caption Tennessee first used the electric chair in 1916

Tennessee's governor has signed a bill allowing the state to use the electric chair in executions if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

The bill was overwhelmingly passed by state legislators last month.

They were concerned by the increasing unavailability of the drugs amid a ban on their use in executions by European pharmaceutical firms.

Eight other US states give inmates a choice of death by the electric chair or lethal injection.

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center said Tennessee was the first state to enact a law allowing the electric chair to be imposed on an inmate.

But he said he would expect legal challenges to arise if such a punishment went ahead as it could contravene constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

"The electric chair is clearly a brutal alternative," he said.

Death penalty review

A spokesman to Governor Bill Haslam confirmed to US media that he had signed the bill, but there has been no official word from his office.

The legislation was passed by the state Senate with a 23-3 vote and the House with 68-13 votes in April.

Bill sponsor Senator Ken Yager explained recently that he introduced the legislation "because of a real concern that we could find ourselves in a position that if the chemicals were unavailable to us that we would not be able to carry out the sentence".

Governor Haslam's signing came on the same day the US Supreme Court delayed the execution of a Missouri man.

The court accepted concerns that convicted murderer Russell Bucklew's medical condition could complicate the lethal injection and cause him undue suffering.

It would have been the first since the botched execution last month of Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Lockett, who suffered a prolonged death after an improperly delivered lethal injection.

President Barack Obama has since called for a review of problems surrounding the application of the death penalty.

US states have had increasing trouble in recent years finding drugs to use in executions, amid an embargo from the European Union, where pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to ship drugs to buyers in the US for use in lethal injection.

The shortage has led the states in some cases to turn to lesser-regulated compounding pharmacies.

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