A new proposed law in Mississippi opens up the possibility of death row inmates being executed by firing squad. House Bill 638 adds firing squad, gas chamber, and electrocution as alternative methods of execution should lethal injection ever become unconstitutional.
Under Mississippi law, lethal injection is the only acceptable method of capital punishment. The new bill was introduced as a counterpunch to a federal lawsuit filed against the state that claims execution drugs are unconstitutional. Since the court case was filed, executions in Mississippi have been at a standstill as the state is unable to acquire any lethal injection drugs.
Should a court rule lethal injection unconstitutional, then the next method of execution would be death by nitrogen hypoxia, according to language in HB 638. Firing squad would be next if the gas chamber is deemed unauthorized or otherwise unavailable. The method of last resort for carrying out capital punishment would be the electric chair.
“I have a constituent whose daughter was raped and killed 25 years ago and the person is still awaiting execution,” said House Judiciary B Chairman Andy Gipson, as reported by the Clarion Ledger. “If we want to have the death penalty, this bill will give us options.”
Mississippi House Bill 638 passed the House earlier this week and now moves to the Senate for debate. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood support the bill, added Gipson.
While firing squad would be a new method for the state, the gas chamber and electrocution have been used previously in Mississippi. Currently, Utah and Oklahoma are the only other states that use firing squad as an acceptable method of execution.
Convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner was the last inmate to die by firing squad in June 2010. Executed in Utah, Gardner was strapped to a chair and shot four times in the heart.
While gas chambers were introduced in the last century and became a very popular execution technique, a 1994 federal court decision ruled the method violated the Eighth Amendment. However, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and the gas chamber is again available for use in several states.
Electrocution still remains an alternative execution method in eight states. In Virginia, Robert Gleason, convicted of killing two inmates, was the last prisoner to die in the electric chair four years ago. Before his death, he promised to keep killing others until his sentence was carried out.
With the constitutionality of lethal injection in question, many suppliers have stopped sales of the drugs needed to carry out executions. Some states have tried different combinations of drugs that were available to them, but many executions ended up failing. These botched executions have led to various lawsuits claiming the procedure is cruel and unusual punishment.
There have even been some cases where prisons attempted to obtain execution drugs through third parties. However, federal agents were able to interrupt and stop the transactions.
Throughout the history of Mississippi, various forms of capital punishment have been utilized. The first was hanging, which the state used until 1940. From 1940 to 1952, the electric chair was the favored method of capital punishment.
The state had a gas chamber installed in 1954 to replace the electric chair and Gerald Gallego had the honor of being the first person to die by lethal gas in Mississippi. For the next 34 years, 35 other death row inmates would meet their fate this way. In the early 1980s, Mississippi amended the capital punishment law to include lethal injection but did not remove the gas chamber option until 1998.
The last Mississippi execution was carried out in 2012. Currently, there are 47 inmates waiting on death row. Besides Mississippi, 32 other states use lethal injection as the primary method for capital punishment.
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