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Death Penalty Bill Could Lead To More Electrocutions

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

  A bill passed by House and Senate committees on Wednesday would ease restrictive language that has kept the Department of Correction from using the electric chair as a means to execute death row inmates.

Throughout the last half of the 20th century, lethal injection replaced death by electrocution as the preferred method of executing prisoners throughout the country.  However, a recent shortage in the supply of the necessary chemicals to carry out the procedure has caused a logjam of executions in many states, including Tennessee.

Tennessee is one of eight states that currently allows the use of the electric chair, but only under very specific conditions.  The bill being proposed by Sen. Ken Yager (R- Harriman) and Representative Dennis Powers (R- Jacksboro) would ease those limitations to make electrocution a more accessible option.

The bill’s sponsors say the cost of housing and feeding a death row prisoner is one of the reasons it should be passed.  "We're paying about $40,000 per year per person," Powers told "the Tennessean". "It's about carrying out the sentence."

Since, 1960 only one Tennessee inmate has been executed by electrocution.  In 2007, Darryl Keith Holton was electrocuted for the murder of his four children. 

The Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender has indicated it may launch a constitutional challenge if the bill becomes law, according to language in the bill.  The General Assembly created the office to provide legal assistance to death row inmates by “challenging the legality of the judgment and sentence” against them.