Inmates Call Electric Chair Unconstitutional
NASHVILLE (CN) - Tennessee's plan to use the electric chair as a backup to lethal injection is unconstitutional, Death Row inmates claimed Friday in an amended complaint.
Stephen Michael West and four other Death Row inmates sued Tennessee in November, claiming execution by electric chair violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Since the original lawsuit was filed, botched executions by lethal injection in Oklahoma and Arizona made world headlines, and inmates and capital punishment critics have filed lawsuits against states, demanding to know where they get their lethal drugs. States have resisted, and drug companies have become reluctant to supply the lethal drugs.
Tennessee's Capital Punishment Enforcement Act, which took effect July 1, dictates that a death sentence will be carried out by electrocution if one or more lethal injection chemicals are "unavailable."
In a second amended complaint in Davidson County Chancery Court, West et al. claim that electrocution "causes death over a prolonged period of time" by inflicting severe brain damage.
"There is no scientific evidence suggesting that applying high voltage electrical current to a prisoner during an electrocution execution causes the prisoner's instantaneous death," the amended complaint states. "Judicial electrocutions establish that prisoners have remained alive during and after the electrocution process."
The electric chair "cooks" internal organs, which takes time to kill the prisoner, the inmates claim.
The amended complaint describes in detail what observers have seen at electric chair executions.
"Witnesses to electrocution executions report that when the executioner activated the electric chair, the bodies of prisoners violently lunged forward, arched up and/or slammed back into the chair," the complaint states. "Their hands clenched into fists, sometimes leaving behind a grotesquely distended finger. Their chests heaved and their legs jerked."
Eyewitnesses described smoke and steam coming from prisoners' bodies, the smell of burning flesh, and prisoners' skin color changing to "white, yellow, green, pink, red, scarlet, blue, purple, gray and/or black" during electrocution, according to the complaint.
The prisoners claim that it may take two or three electrocutions to kill a prisoner. They ask the court to declare electrocution executions unconstitutional.
They say Tennessee is the only state to have renewed the use of the electric chair. "The federal government does not authorize electrocution as a method for carrying out a federal sentence," the complaint states. "No government in the world imposes electrocution as a method for executing a death sentence."
The inmates are represented by federal public defender Kelley Henry.
West is scheduled to be executed on Feb. 10, 2015.