Electric Chair Ruling Heartens Execution Foes - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Electric Chair Ruling Heartens Execution Foes

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From Phil Williams:

All executions have been put on hold in Tennessee while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether lethal injection is constitutional.

Some Republicans have chided Gov. Phil Bredesen for not using the electric chair in the interim to keep the executions going.

But a decision Friday out of Nebraska may provide ammunition for those who believe Bredesen did the right thing -- as well as for those who believe the death penalty is wrong.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that the electric chair amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

"Electrocution's proven history of burning and charring bodies is inconsistent with both the concepts of evolving standards of decency and the dignity of man," the high court ruled.

"Examined under modern scientific knowledge, '[electrocution] has proven itself to be a dinosaur befitting the laboratory of Baron Frankenstein than the death chamber' of state prisons."

The court added that it recognizes "the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made the innocent victim suffer.  But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it."

A number of years ago, fearing such a legal challenge, Tennessee made lethal injection the preferred means of execution.  Inmates who had previously been sentenced to die in the electric chair would only face electrocution if they chose it themselves.

Tennessee death row inmate Donnie Johnson has chosen the electric chair -- at the same time, he has challenged whether it's constitutional.

So far, the courts have ruled that there's no constitutional problem since it was his choice, not the state's.

But if Tennessee were to resort back to the electric chair, as a backup, the state would almost certainly face the same sort of legal challenge that won the day in Nebraska.

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