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Idaho set to allow firing squad executions

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is set to allow firing squads to execute convicted inmates when the state cannot obtain lethal injection drugs, under a bill the state Legislature passed Monday with a majority without a veto.

Firing squads will only be used if the state cannot obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections – and one death row inmate has already had his scheduled execution repeatedly postponed due to drug shortages.

The move by Idaho lawmakers is consistent with other states that in recent years have struggled to revive old methods of execution due to difficulties obtaining the drugs needed for lethal injection programs. long time. Pharmaceutical companies increasingly barred executioners from using their drugs, saying they were meant to save lives, not take them.

Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little has expressed support for the death penalty, but typically does not comment on the legislation before signing or vetoing it.

Only Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina currently have laws allowing firing squads if other methods of execution are unavailable, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The South Carolina law is on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

Some states have begun refurbishing electric chairs in the event that deadly drugs are unavailable. Others have considered – and sometimes used – largely untested methods of execution. In 2018, Nevada executed Carey Dean Moore on a never-before-tried drug combination that included the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. Alabama has built a system to execute people using nitrogen gas to induce hypoxia, but it has yet to be used.

In a historic streak of 13 executions in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, the federal government opted for the sedative pentobarbital as a replacement for the deadly drugs used in the 2000s. It issued a protocol authorizing firing squads execution for federal executions if necessary, but this method was not used.

Some attorneys for federal inmates who were eventually put to death argued in court that firing squads would actually be faster and cause less pain than pentobarbital, which they say causes a feeling close to drowning. .

However, in a 2019 filing, US attorneys quoted an expert as saying that a person shot by firing squad can remain conscious for 10 seconds and that it would be “extremely painful, especially due to the bursting of the bone and spinal cord damage”.

President Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland has ordered a temporary pause in federal executions in 2021 while the Justice Department reviews protocols. Garland did not specify how long the moratorium will last.

Idaho Senator Doug Ricks, a Republican who co-sponsored that state’s firing squad bill, told fellow senators on Monday that the state’s difficulty in finding lethal injection drugs could prosecute “indefinitely” and that he believes death by firing squad is “humane”.

“This is a matter of rule of law – our penal system should work and penalties should be imposed,” Ricks said.

But Sen. Dan Foreman, also a Republican, said executions by firing squad will traumatize the people who carry them out, the people who witness them and the people who clean up afterwards.

“I’ve seen the aftermath of shootings, and it’s psychologically damaging to anyone who witnesses it,” Foreman said. “The use of the firing squad is, in my opinion, below the dignity of the state of Idaho.”

The bill was initiated by Republican Representative Bruce Skaug, motivated in part by the state’s failure to execute Gerald Pizzuto Jr. late last year. Pizzuto, who now has terminal cancer and other debilitating illnesses, spent more than three decades on death row for his role in the 1985 murders of two gold diggers.

The Idaho Department of Corrections estimates it will cost about $750,000 to build or upgrade a death chamber for firing squad executions.

Last year, agency director Jeff Tewalt told lawmakers there would likely be as many legal challenges to planned executions by firing squads as there were to lethal injections. At the time, he said he would be reluctant to ask his associates to participate in a firing squad.

Both Tewalt and his former colleague Kevin Kempf played a key role in getting drugs used in the execution of Richard Albert Leavitt in 2012, flying to Tacoma, Wash., with more than $15,000 in cash for buy them from a pharmacist. The trip was kept secret by the department but revealed in court documents after University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover sued for the information under a public records law.

Kempf was promoted to head of corrections two years later and is now executive director of the Correctional Leaders Association. He said the execution process is always difficult for everyone involved, including the relatives of the victims. These challenges could be amplified in executions by firing squads, he said.

“I have to say at the same time that my thoughts are with the staff members who may have to do something, by law, that looks like putting someone to death,” Kempf told the AP during the interview. a telephone interview earlier this month. “It’s nothing that I suppose a Correctional Director would take lightly, asking-someone-slash-ordering-someone to do it.”

Biden has pledged during his campaign to work to end the death penalty nationwide, but he has been silent on the issue as president. Critics say his hands-off approach risked sending the message that he was okay with states adopting alternative methods of execution.

Tarm contributed from Chicago.

The Huffington Gt

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