Tennessee governor Bill Haslam signed a bill into law today that will allow the state to execute prisoners in the electric chair if lethal injection drugs aren't available.
The bill was passed last month by overwhelming majorities in both the state's Senate and House of Representatives. While there are other states that give prisoners a choice to be executed by electric chair or other means, Tennessee is now the first state that will compel it.
Tennessee, like many states, has struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs after European drug manufacturers banned their use in executions. Other states have tried to replace those drugs with other drug protocols, often ones that have not been used in an execution before -- and with terrible results. Tennessee can now avoid that entirely by simply electrocuting its prisoners.
In 2007, Daryl Holton was the last person to be executed by electric chair in the state, per his request. The New York Times' Dan Barry described it as follows:
With the push of a button on a console labeled Electric Chair Control, 1,750 volts bolt through Mr. Holton’s body, jerking it up and dropping it like a sack of earth. The black shroud offers the slightest flutter, and witnesses cannot tell whether they have just heard a machine’s whoosh or a man’s sigh.
Fifteen seconds later, another bolt, and Mr. Holton’s body rises even higher, slumps even lower. His reddened hands remain gripped to the arms of the chair, whose oaken pieces are said to have once belonged to the old electric chair, and before that, to the gallows.
Before Holton, Tennessee's electric chair hadn't been used in 40 years.
Tennessee's most recent execution was Cecil Johnson in 2009. The next inmate scheduled for execution is Billy Ray Irick, on October 7.
A spokesman for Haslam would not comment to the AP further than to say the bill had been signed.