The Alabama House passed a bill this week that would allow the state to once again put people to death by electric chair if the currently low supply of lethal injection drugs runs out or if the Supreme Court places limits on which drugs can be used to execute inmates in a case currently pending before the justices.
After the European Union banned exports of drugs used to kill human beings in 2011, states have been scrambling to find a reliable supply, often turning to secret, poorly regulated sources.
These bills to revive older methods of execution were proposed following a series of botched executions in which inmates suffered long and seemingly painful deaths — calling into question whether the drugs are as effective and “humane” as their supporters claimed.
Yet medical experts say the electric chair — which was used for hundreds of years — is an even more torturous and gruesome method of execution. Because the equipment is old and few people know how to operate it, it has often malfunctioned.
In 1982, an inmate’s head and leg caught on fire mid-execution, producing the “odor and sizzling sound of burning flesh.” A 1983 execution in Alabama “took 14 minutes and left Evans’s body charred and smoldering.” In 1990 in Virginia, “blood spewed from the right side of the mask” on the inmate’s face, drenching his shirt with blood and causing a sizzling sound as blood dripped from his lips.” The man “continued to moan before a second jolt of electricity was applied.”
As Utah, Alabama, Tennessee and other states respond by proposing a return to execution methods halted years ago, others are responding to the uncertain supply and constitutionality of lethal injection drugs by putting their scheduled executions on hold. The high court is expected to rule this summer.