- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2016

Rather than sign a bill to make the electric chair the backup method for executions in Virginia when lethal injection drugs are unavailable, Gov. Terry McAuliffe instead has proposed a plan to encourage pharmacies to make the drugs and shield their identities from the public.

The Democratic governor introduced his plan late Sunday in an amendment to the electric chair legislation, opting not to veto the Republican-controlled legislature’s bill.

Mr. McAuliffe’s alternative plan, which failed to garner legislative approval in 2015, would allow the state Department of Corrections to enter into contracts with compounding pharmacies that would make the lethal injection drugs in secret. The amendment would block the release of the companies’ identities via Freedom of Information Act requests and would prevent identifying information from being subject to discovery in civil lawsuits.

Mr. McAuliffe defended his plan Monday, saying there is no justification for the original electric chair bill “that carries such horrific consequences.”

“I personally find it reprehensible. We take human beings, we strap them in a chair and then we flood their bodies with 1,800 volts of electricity, subjecting them to unspeakable pain until they die,” he said.

But in the wake of a series of botched lethal injection executions in other states, critics have argued that the delivery of the life-ending drugs also can amount to cruel and unusual punishment.

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Since 1995, convicts on Virginia’s death row have been given the choice between dying by lethal injection or the electric chair. Only six of the 85 convicts executed since 1995 have chosen electrocution over lethal injection.

Nineteen states have abolished the death penalty, but those that still carry out capital punishment have struggled in recent years to obtain lethal injection drugs, as pharmaceutical companies have been pressured to stop providing them for executions.

As a result, states have begun to revive older methods of capital punishment. Utah brought back the firing squad as an option in 2015, and a similar proposal remains under consideration in Mississippi. Oklahoma has approved nitrogen gas for executions if lethal injection drugs are unavailable or if injection is struck down by the courts, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Virginia’s General Assembly will reconvene April 20 to consider all of the governor’s vetoes and recommendations. He has vetoed 32 of 811 bills that the legislature had delivered to him for action by midnight Sunday. He has issued more vetoes in this one session than any other Virginia governor since Jim Gilmore in 1998.

Mr. McAuliffe said Monday he will veto the electric chair legislation if lawmakers do not accept his amendment, adding that “they will bring the death penalty to an end here in Virginia.”

“These manufacturers will not do business in Virginia if their identities are to be revealed,” he said of the pharmacies that make the lethal injection drugs.

Delegate Jackson Miller, the Prince William Republican who sponsored the electric chair bill, disputed the governor’s assessment.

“There are still chances we will be able to find the drugs,” said Mr. Miller, noting a drug swap that the Department of Corrections participated in with Texas prison officials to obtain a hard-to-come-by lethal injection drug last year.

Texas officials provided doses of the drug pentobarbital to Virginia for last year’s execution of Alfredo Prieto as a favor for a trade in 2013, when Virginia gave Texas a backup dose of pentobarbital ahead of an execution there.

Use of capital punishment has been on the decline in Virginia in recent years, with the state falling from second to third in the nation for the number of executions carried out since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Once renowned for its speed and efficiency of prosecutions and appeals in capital punishment cases, Virginia has executed 111 people since 1976.

The executions of Ricky Gray and Ivan Teleguz, scheduled to be carried out in Virginia this year, have been stayed while their cases are reviewed by the Supreme Court.

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