Sent: Saturday, October 06, 2001 10:24 AMSubject: GA- Court blocks electric chair use Forwarded by The Justice Project


Ga. Court Blocks Electric Chair Use

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia's highest court struck down the state's use of the electric chair Friday, saying electocution violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In a 4-3 decision, the court said that death by electrocution "inflicts purposeless physical violence and needless mutilation that makes no measurable contribution to accepted goals of punishment."

The ruling leaves just two states with the electric chair, Alabama and Nebraska.

With the ruling, the state automatically switches to the use of lethal injection under a law passed last year to provide an alternate method of execution if the courts ruled electrocution illegal.

Mike Light, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the death chamber at the state prison near Jackson about 40 miles south of Atlanta has been retrofitted for injection. "We are fully prepared to carry out the order of the courts."

The most recent count showed that 128 men and one woman are under death sentence in Georgia.

Some 441 people have been put to death in Georgia's electric chair since it replaced hanging in 1924.

The long-awaited decision was a victory for lawyers who three months ago used the graphic photograph of a recently electrocuted prisoner to support their arguments that the electric chair is inhumane.

"We do not need burning flesh, disfigurement, cooking of the brain, the smell of burning flesh at 145 degrees Centigrade," argued attorney Stephen Bright. "That might have been acceptable a few years ago ... but today the state has available lethal injection."

The state had countered that electrocution brought immediate unconsciousness. "There is no way a person being electrocuted is able to feel pain," said Susan Boleyn, a senior assistant state attorney general.

Prior to those arguments, the court had signaled in a series of decisions it was increasingly troubled by electrocution.

A year ago, Justice Norman Fletcher, now the chief justice, noted in an opinion that some members had "grave concerns about the humaneness of electrocution." He said they were willing to confront the issue if presented with "sufficient" evidence.

Electrocution was the sole means of execution in Georgia from 1924 until last year, when the state Legislature ordered lethal injection for all persons convicted of crimes committed after May 1, 00.

The law left electrocution on the books for those convicted of crimes before that date but stipulated a switch to lethal injection if the courts outlawed electrocution.

The law was passed amid fears the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down electrocution.

The state's most recent execution was June 9, 1998, when 39-year-old David Loomis Cargill was electrocuted for the armed robberies and murders of a Columbus couple in 1985.