Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Electric Chair Use Argued in Court State, Defense Debate; Ruling Likely in 6 Months

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Electric Chair Use Argued in Court State, Defense Debate; Ruling Likely in 6 Months

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Electrocuting condemned murderers is a barbaric method of carrying out the death penalty that no longer meets Georgians' standards of decency, defense attorneys argued yesterday before the state Supreme Court.

But the state's lawyer countered that nothing about death in the electric chair has been shown to violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual'' punishment.

The court will issue rulings within the next six months.

Yesterday's hour-long oral arguments in two death penalty cases were both a scientific discourse on the way the electric chair kills -- including grisly details of the process of electrocution -- and a debate over the meaning of a law enacted by the General Assembly last year replacing electrocution with lethal injection for all capital crimes committed after May 1, 2000.

The General Assembly sent a message that the electric chair is unacceptable by modern standards, Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, told the seven-justice panel.

Bright cited last year's debate on the issue in the Georgia House, particularly arguments from Rep. E.C. Tillman, D-Brunswick, that lethal injection is a more humane form of execution.

Bright pointed out that of the 40 states that use the death penalty, only Alabama and Nebraska have the electric chair as the sole form of execution.

"Today, we don't allow electrocution even to euthanize animals,'' he said. "Surely, we have a higher standard for people than for animals.''

Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Boleyn argued that the General Assembly's decision to leave the electric chair as the sole method of executing the 130 inmates now on Georgia's Death Row shows that lawmakers didn't intend to abandon electrocution. They were simply worried that an adverse court ruling could take away Georgia's right to administer capital punishment for future crimes, she said.

What the General Assembly meant to do is "make sure that it would have a fallback position in the event that this court or the U.S. Supreme Court finds electrocution unconstitutional,'' she said. …

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