Virginia Governor Rejects Plan to Execute Inmates in Electric Chair

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Monday that he has proposed keeping secret the identities of pharmacies that supply lethal-injection drugs for executions, instead of changing the law to force inmates to die in the electric chair if there are no available drugs.

McAuliffe stripped the contentious electric-chair provision from a bill and vowed to veto the measure if lawmakers reintroduce it. He warned that unless Virginia shields lethal-injection-drug manufacturers from public scrutiny, capital punishment in the state will come to a halt.

Lawmakers "have the opportunity to be part of the solution,'' McAuliffe said. "If they pass up that opportunity, they will bring the death penalty to an end here in Virginia,'' he said.

McAuliffe's amendment would give Virginia's Department of Corrections the authority to compound its own execution drugs using products from pharmacies whose identities would remain confidential.

Without the secrecy provision, the measure is "only an empty gesture,'' McAuliffe said, because manufacturers will continue to refuse to supply drugs to Virginia unless their names are kept under wraps. Florida, Texas and Ohio have included similar provisions in their compounding laws, he said.

Virginia is one of at least eight states that allow electrocutions, but currently gives inmates the choice of lethal injection or the electric chair.

The original bill sought to allow the state to use the electric chair when lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

Supporters of that measure said Virginia has no choice but to make electrocutions its default method because death penalty opponents have made it so difficult to find drugs. Lawmakers who backed the bill used the pending execution of a convicted murder to make their case, detailing his grisly crimes in emotional speeches in the General Assembly.

But McAuliffe faced intense pressure to veto the electric chair bill from religious groups and other death penalty opponents, who say electrocutions are cruel and unusual punishment.

 The governor said Monday that he agrees that the electric chair is "reprehensible,'' adding that Virginians don't want to revert back to a past when "excessively inhumane punishments were committed in their name.'' But he said he does not want to end capital punishment in the state.

It's unclear whether there will be enough support in the Republican-controlled General Assembly to approve McAuliffe's amendment.

A similar measure backed by the governor failed in the General Assembly last year amid concerns over transparency. Republican Del. Jackson Miller, who sponsored the electric chair bill, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on Monday.

Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell, a staunch death penalty opponent, said he's pleased that McAuliffe didn't sign the electric chair bill but has serious concerns about shrouding the execution process in secrecy.

"For some reason, the Department of Corrections seems to be obsessed with secrecy,'' he said. "Of all the things that we ought to require transparency on, the execution of human beings seems to be something that ought to have max transparency, not minimum transparency.''

Virginia's two scheduled executions have been put on hold, pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Ricky Gray, who was sentenced to death for the 2006 murders of a family of four in Richmond, was supposed to be executed March 16. Ivan Teleguz, who was convicted of hiring a man to kill his ex-girlfriend, was set to receive a lethal injection on Wednesday, but his execution has also been delayed, pending the high court's review.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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