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Thursday 18 September 2014

US states turn to firing squads after botched lethal injection

Philip Sherwell in New York

Published 23/05/2014 | 02:30

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The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, is shown. Used mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was also used in 1977 in Utah to execute Gary Gilmore, the first inmate put to death after the US Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume, and two other Utah inmates. Some experts consider it the quickest and least painful method. AP
The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, is shown. Used mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was also used in 1977 in Utah to execute Gary Gilmore, the first inmate put to death after the US Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume, and two other Utah inmates. Some experts consider it the quickest and least painful method. AP

Two more American states are taking concrete steps towards restoring the firing squad for executions in response to shortages of drugs for lethal injection.

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The botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate last month using a previously untried drug cocktail has prompted intense debate about how states carry out the death penalty.

Now state representatives in Wyoming have directed officials to draft a firing-squad bill to be brought before the next legislative session.

And in neighbouring Utah, a Republican senator said that he will introduce firing-squad legislation at the next session too. The state outlawed execution by firing squad for inmates condemned to death in 2004, although kept it as an option for convicts sentenced before that year.

The firing squad was once a common method of execution in the US. But just three prisoners have been executed by that manner in America since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and the firing squad is only on the statute books as a back-up option in two states.

Several states are now taking a fresh look at firing squads as lethal injection has become increasingly difficult after European pharmaceutical companies stopped exporting drug compounds used for the death penalty.

Tennessee has already passed a measure to reintroduce the electric chair and Missouri is considering a proposal that would allow the use of both gas chambers and firing squads.

The impact of the drugs' shortage was horrifically illustrated last month in Oklahoma when Clayton Lockett, a convicted murderer, finally died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes after officials started to administer an untried drug cocktail.

Death penalty opponents have argued that the restoration of the firing squad would breach the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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