States consider reviving old-fashioned executions

With lethal-injection drugs in short supply, lawmakers in some death penalty states are thinking back on old methods: firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.
Associated Press
Jan 28, 2014

With lethal-injection drugs in short supply and new questions looming about their effectiveness, lawmakers in some death penalty states are considering bringing back relics of a more gruesome past: firing squads, electrocutions and gas chambers.

Most states abandoned those execution methods more than a generation ago in a bid to make capital punishment more palatable to the public and to a judicial system worried about inflicting cruel and unusual punishments that violate the Constitution.

But to some elected officials, the drug shortages and recent legal challenges are beginning to make lethal injection seem too vulnerable to complications.

"This isn't an attempt to time-warp back into the 1850s or the wild, wild West or anything like that," said Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin, who this month proposed making firing squads an option for executions. "It's just that I foresee a problem, and I'm trying to come up with a solution that will be the most humane yet most economical for our state."

Brattin, a Republican, said questions about the injection drugs are sure to end up in court, delaying executions and forcing states to examine alternatives. It's not fair, he said, for relatives of murder victims to wait years, even decades, to see justice served while lawmakers and judges debate execution methods.

Like Brattin, a Wyoming lawmaker this month offered a bill allowing the firing squad. Missouri's attorney general and a state lawmaker have raised the notion of rebuilding the state's gas chamber. And a Virginia lawmaker wants to make electrocution an option if lethal-injection drugs aren't available.

If adopted, those measures could return states to the more harrowing imagery of previous decades, when inmates were hanged, electrocuted or shot to death by marksmen.

States began moving to lethal injection in the 1980s in the belief that powerful sedatives and heart-stopping drugs would replace the violent spectacles with a more clinical affair while limiting, if not eliminating, an inmate's pain.

The total number of U.S. executions has declined — from a peak of 98 in 1999 to 39 last year. Some states have turned away from the death penalty entirely. Many have cases tied up in court. And those that carry on with executions find them increasingly difficult to conduct because of the scarcity of drugs and doubts about how well they work.

European drug makers have stopped selling the lethal chemicals to prisons because they do not want their products used to kill.

At least two recent executions are also raising concerns about the drugs' effectiveness. Last week, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die by injection, gasping repeatedly as he lay on a gurney with his mouth opening and closing. And on Jan. 9, Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson's final words were, "I feel my whole body burning."

Missouri threw out its three-drug lethal injection procedure after it could no longer obtain the drugs. State officials altered the method in 2012 to use propofol, which was found in the system of pop star Michael Jackson after he died of an overdose in 2009.

The anti-death penalty European Union threatened to impose export limits on propofol if it were used in an execution, jeopardizing the supply of a common anesthetic needed by hospitals across the nation. In October, Gov. Jay Nixon stayed the execution of serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin and ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to find a new drug.

Days later, the state announced it had switched to a form of pentobarbital made by a compounding pharmacy. Like other states, Missouri has refused to divulge where the drug comes from or who makes it.

Missouri has carried out two executions using pentobarbital — Franklin in November and Allen Nicklasson in December. Neither inmate showed outward signs of suffering, but the secrecy of the process resulted in a lawsuit and a legislative inquiry.

Michael Campbell, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said some lawmakers simply don't believe convicted murderers deserve any mercy.

"Many of these politicians are trying to tap into a more populist theme that those who do terrible things deserve to have terrible things happen to them," Campbell said.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., cautioned that there could be a backlash.

"These ideas would jeopardize the death penalty because, I think, the public reaction would be revulsion, at least from many quarters," Dieter said.

Some states already provide alternatives to lethal injection. Condemned prisoners may choose the electric chair in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. An inmate named Robert Gleason Jr. was the most recent to die by electrocution, in Virginia in January 2013.

Missouri and Wyoming allow for gas-chamber executions, and Arizona does if the crime occurred before Nov. 23, 1992, and the inmate chooses that option instead of lethal injection. Missouri no longer has a gas chamber, but Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, and Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican, last year suggested possibility rebuilding one. So far, there is no bill to do so.

Delaware, New Hampshire and Washington state still allow inmates to choose hanging. The last hanging in the U.S. was Billy Bailey in Delaware in 1996. Two prisoners in Washington state have chosen to be hanged since the 1990s — Westley Allan Dodd in 1993 and Charles Rodman Campbell in 1994.

Firing squads typically consisting of five sharpshooters with rifles, one of which is loaded with a blank so the shooters do not know for sure who fired the fatal bullet. They have been used mostly for military executions.

In recent years, there have been three civilian firing squad executions in the U.S., all in Utah. Gary Gilmore uttered his famous final words, "Let's do it," on Jan. 17, 1977, before his execution, which ended a 10-year moratorium on the death penalty.

Convicted killers John Albert Taylor in 1996 and Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010 were also put to death by firing squad.

Utah is phasing out its use, but the firing squad remains an option there for inmates sentenced prior to May 3, 2004.

Oklahoma maintains the firing squad as an option, but only if lethal injection and electrocution are deemed unconstitutional.

In Wyoming, Republican state Sen. Bruce Burns said death by firing squad would be far less expensive than building a gas chamber. Wyoming has only one inmate on death row, 68-year-old convicted killer Dale Wayne Eaton. The state has not executed anyone in 22 years.

Jackson Miller, a Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates, is sponsoring a bill that would allow for electrocution if lethal injection drugs are not available.

Miller said he would prefer that the state have easy access to the drugs needed for lethal injections. "But I also believe that the process of the justice system needs to be fulfilled."


Stop It


Licorice Schtick

Read on for an orgy of hate.


“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.”


In some sense I agree with you but in another I sort of feel that maybe it should be left up to the families of the people that the person murdered. But then again I've seen tv shows - and I'm sure that it was all done for effect and maybe not how it was really done - but in execution a hood was placed over a person's head prior to their death and maybe that should be done so no one can see them as they take their last breath, not the family of the victim nor the murderer's family. And why I think that's appropriate is that way the victim's family can just know that they received justice and the other family can't come up with arguments like things like what's been being said with the man that was just executed here recently. I truly am torn about the death penalty except in cases where there's no doubt who committed the crime. I don't know that I feel a person's life should be taken if there's any chance that another could have committed the crime and in the same sense why have a person sitting in jail for the rest of their life, being supported by the state, maybe even having their cases appealed because they don't like what happened even though no one else could have possibly committed the crime, just because they don't like the sentence they received. Sentence them and have the sentence carried out within a short amount of time. None of this sitting on death row for decades crap!! That's what doesn't make any sense and shouldn't be


"Justice" n virgina


This may sound rather barbaric, but I say "hang 'em on the courthouse lawn". Public executions might deter future illegal criminals!


I will not argue that, because of the heinousness of their crimes, some criminals forfeit their right to walk on this earth, however, far too many innocent people have been executed over the years, under the guise of "tough on crime". Unless you can guarantee the guilt of all, you should execute none. Also, why not make executions as graphic and gruesome as possible? My guess is that most of the people who scream for blood, would think twice about it after witnessing one. Just my opinion.

Simple Enough II

Can you provide actual numbers and percentages? Please include in your response support as to how they were innocent, the total number excecuted and the total number deemd innocent by experts other than socalled amnesty intl. or "save Tookie" like groups, or is this just your opinion after watching the green mile?


Hmmmm, I've never watched the Green Mile, so I have no opinion on that, as for actual numbers and percentages, you need to simply google that information. As for an official number, the legal system does not generally entertain claims from or on behalf of executed people.

"People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty ... I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial."

- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking at the University of the District of Columbia, April 2001.


+1 just last year 13 was released. One spent 30 yes just to find out he was wrongfully convicted. To many times whether it be overzealous cops our a prosecutor or just bad defense people are convicted for something they didn't do.


Perhaps die the same way their victims did?


Firing squads are good, only two live rounds out of 12.With DNA today, wrongful deaths are at a minimum !We support more criminals than any other nation and can't feed our poor .


Like ^

From the Grave

I say use them as lab rabbits.


No doubt , why should comapasion be made for the ones that take lives , then you should die the same way

No Wake

I dunno, maybe to show that we're better than that?


A return to the gruesome past, yet another blot on a decaying, irrelevant society under the guise of “progressivism”. Glorification of the homosexual act. Total indifference to the killing of the unborn. So much for human dignity…

From the Grave

Fear is the only human indignity, and we create that ourselves.


You sure are obsesed with gay people...trying to hide something? "Thou protest too much".......


all you 'eye for an eye' people need to move to Iraq. the death penalty is wrong, any way you look at it. killing in response to killing is basically 2 wrongs don't make a right. vengeance is the Lord's, remember?


go buy come carbon credits eat a salad and hug a damn tree.


rbenn, like that!

Licorice Schtick

Our great, great grandchildren will have fantasies about traveling back in time to execute the idiots who destroyed the planet they'll be trying to live on.

Simple Enough II

He has a right to his opinion, but +1 to your response!

swiss cheese kat

rbenn, like.


1st take all their viable organs and give them to people who really do deserve a second chance at life, then hang them..


If you did that, what would be the use of hanging them?


okay, you are correct. kill 2 birds with one stone...

Pterocarya frax...

After reading all the comments on the death penalty stories recently, I have come to the conclusion that Darwin was wrong. Apparently as a society, we have not evolved.

Very sad.

Dr. Information

Hence the reason why "evolution" is more of a scientific myth than a reality.