The End of Old Sparky; U.S. Could Abandon the Electric Chair after Supreme Court Rules It Is Cruel
Byline: WILLIAM LOWTHER
THE electric chair may have claimed its last victim following a decision by America's senior judges to stay the execution of a convicted killer.
The Supreme Court yesterday backed a defence claim that it was a 'cruel and unusual' punishment.
It was a landmark decision that means the court would be likely to deliver similar verdicts in other such cases.
Last night President Clinton was said to be keeping a 'close eye' on the case following a request for a moratorium on capital puinishment.
He will consider the plea from Illinois Senator Russ Feingold that he suspend federal executions - applied to interstate crimes and offences such as treason and espionage.
'The President was certainly concerned, ' the spokesman said.
However, the court's decision alone will not mean an end to capital punishment in the United States.
The handful of states which still use the electric chair, nicknamed Old Sparky, are likely to switch to lethal injections. Robert Lee Tarver, 52, was due to die yesterday at Hol-man Prison in Alabama for the 1984 robbery and shooting of a grocer.
But his lawyers told the Supreme Court that there have been documented cases of condemned men being hideously burned and bruised during their executions in the chair.
Prison officials argue that electrocution brings instant and almost painless death, but the state of Florida - its biggest supporter - began offering prisoners the alternative of lethal injections late last year.
Its change of heart followed the case of a 25-stone killer who was only pronounced dead after five minutes of current passing through his body.
Alabama, Nebraska and Georgia are the only states that still exclusively use the electric chair, although about a dozen others offer it as an alternative to injections.
In granting a stay of execution, the Supreme Court made it clear that it was doing so only because the electric chair was to be used.
Alabama officials are thought certain to switch to lethal injection and execute Tarver in the next few weeks. Nebraska and Georgia are also likely to abandon Old Sparky.
Tarver was convicted 15 years ago of the robbery and murder of Hugh Kite, a 63-year-old grocery and bait store owner in south-east Alabama. …