The House of Delegates passed legislation Wednesday that would bring back the electric chair as Virginia’s default method of execution because of difficulty obtaining the drugs used in lethal injections.
The Republican-controlled House approved Del. Jackson Miller’s bill, HB815, on a mostly party-line 62-33 vote. It now goes to the Senate, where similar measures have stalled in the past.
Virginia allows condemned inmates to choose whether to be executed by electrocution or lethal injection. Most choose injection – the electric chair was last used in 2013. If the inmate declines to choose, injection is the default method used under current law.
But the drugs used for lethal injection have become increasingly hard to obtain as more manufacturers refuse to make them available for capital punishment.
Ricky Gray, one of seven men on Virginia’s death row, is scheduled to be executed March 16 for the 2006 murders of a Richmond couple and their two daughters during a robbery at their home. But state corrections officials say they have been unable to acquire the first drug in the three-drug cocktail used for lethal injection, putting Gray’s scheduled execution in doubt.
Miller’s bill provides that if the director of the Department of Corrections certifies that lethal injection is not possible, electrocution can be used instead, regardless of the prisoner’s choice.
Wednesday’s House vote came after a graphic description from Miller, R-Manassas, of Gray’s crimes. But Miller acknowledged after the vote that his measure, even if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, would come too late for Gray to be electrocuted March 16. In the absence of an emergency clause, state laws take effect July 1.
Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said the department is trying to obtain the drugs necessary for lethal injection, but “it has become extremely difficult.”
Gray has until 15 days before his execution date to choose which method will be used. Miller speculated that if Gray chooses lethal injection and the necessary drugs are not available, the execution will have to be postponed. In that event, he said, his bill would allow the state to electrocute Gray after July 1.
“It is our job … to finish the task of justice,” Miller told his fellow delegates.
This story was originally featured on PilotOnline.com