AG: Tennessee cannot electrocute inmates who don't choose method - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

AG: Tennessee cannot electrocute inmates who don't choose method

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The state Attorney General has issued an opinion saying the state cannot currently proceed with executions by electrocution if the inmate has not chosen that method.

The ruling was issued Tuesday in response to a lawmaker's question about a federal judge's ruling that the state's method of lethal injection is unconstitutional.

Tennessee law allows death row inmates to choose between lethal injection or by electrocution if their crimes were committed before 1999.

But Attorney General Robert Cooper found that the statute only allows for substitution of electrocution in the event that lethal injection is declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tennessee Supreme Court or another appellate court.

District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that the three-drug cocktail used by the state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Trauger has barred executions by lethal injection until the state addresses problems with training and medical expertise to ensure painless executions.

Some state lawmakers and a Tennessee Supreme Court justice have suggested that in light of Trauger's ruling, the state may still continue with executions by electrocution.

Convicted child killer Daryl Holton was electrocuted in September, the first by that method in Tennessee in 47 years. Holton chose electrocution and the execution did not appear to have any serious delays or mistakes. 

Cooper ruled based on two state statutes adopted in 1998 and 2000 that set lethal injection as the preferred method of execution. The law states that lethal injection will be the method unless an inmate affirmatively chooses death by electrocution. If the crime is committed after Jan. 1, 1999, the only method available is lethal injection.

Cooper said that substitution of electrocution "can only occur if the method of execution is held unconstitutional by certain state and federal appellate courts. It does not allow substitutions based on rulings of a federal district court or a state trial court."

The state currently has three executions scheduled in December and January and Cooper has indicated the state will appeal Trauger's ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also agreed to rule on the constitutionality of lethal injections in a Kentucky death penalty case. The nation's high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the Kentucky case early next year, but a ruling would not be issued until several months after the January execution dates.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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