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Bill proposes use of electric chair if lethal injections unavailable

Pharmaceutical companies refusing to offer execution drugs, Dunham says

<p>In regards to cost, economic costs are typically borne by taxpayers outside of the county in which the death penalty is being pursued, Dunham said.</p>

In regards to cost, economic costs are typically borne by taxpayers outside of the county in which the death penalty is being pursued, Dunham said.

A panel in the Virginia Legislature endorsed a bill Wednesday proposing to mandate the use of the electric chair as a means of execution in the event that lethal drugs are unavailable.

The bill was proposed by House Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas).

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said ultimately the American pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want its life-saving and preserving medicines used in executions.

“The pharmaceutical companies have corporate missions, and their mission is to save lives and not to take lives,” Dunham said. “On top of that, pharmaceutical companies think it’s bad business.”

As a result, some states look to import drugs from abroad, Dunham said. However, Europe categorizes the death penalty as a human rights violation. It is now illegal in the European Union to export medicines to be used in lethal injections to the United States or any other country.

“Given these difficulties some states have looked for alternatives ranging from different methods of execution to different types of drugs to abolishing the death penalty altogether,” Dunham said.

But examining other forms of execution, like Virginia’s proposal for the electric chair, can raise further difficulties, Dunham said.

“Other difficulties states face when they are choosing whether to abandon lethal injections in favor of other forms is that other forms of execution are unpalatable to the American public,” Dunham said.

In a poll conducted by YouGov, lethal injection was the only execution method Americans believed was not cruel and unusual — every other option is distasteful to a majority of Americans, Dunham said.

Law Prof. Brandon Garrett said none of the legitimate pharmaceutical companies will sell their drugs for use in executions by states. This is due especially to states’ lack of clear or public protocols in the use of these drugs.

“It is remarkable that the legislature is considering returning to a method that has been just as prone to botched executions, if not more so, than lethal injections,” Garrett said.

Concerns about the death penalty also center on the risk of executing an innocent person and the cost to the public, Dunham said.

Many innocent people get sentenced to death for reasons ranging from prosecutorial and police misconduct to junk science and racial discrimination, Dunham said.

“Unless you can address all of those things and address them successfully there will always be the risk that an innocent person will be sent to death row and will be executed,” Dunham said.

In regard to cost, economic costs are typically borne by taxpayers outside of the county in which the death penalty is being pursued, Dunham said. Further, most death sentences in the United States are a product of outlier counties.

Currently, fewer than 2 percent of counties account for more than 56 percent of all the nation’s death sentences, Dunham said.

“There have not been death sentences in Virginia for several years now, and the death row has dwindled to seven individuals,” Garrett said. “When given the choice, at a fair trial, in Virginia and across the country, more jurors and judges are choosing life sentences over death sentences.”

Del. Miller could not be reached for comment.

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