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Florida governor confident Supreme Court will uphold electric chair


October 28, 1999
Web posted at: 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT)

In this story:

Graphic executions create controversy

First Supreme Court case in 109 years


From staff and wire reports

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush says he is confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold Florida's use of the electric chair to execute condemned prisoners.

Death penalty

The Supreme Court

But the state's attorney general, Bob Butterworth, says the high court's decision to hear an appeal by a Florida inmate challenging electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment should be a wake-up call to legislators to switch to a different method of capital punishment.

"Our Supreme Court in Florida has been telling us for the last few years, 'You need an alternative,'" Butterworth said. "The legislature has not listened. Hopefully, the legislature will listen. If they don't, there's a chance that there will be no one on death row."

Bush said that until the Supreme Court makes a final ruling, executions will stop in Florida, which has sent 44 people to the electric chair since the high court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Graphic executions create controversy

Florida is one of four states that use electrocution as their only method for dispatching the condemned. The state's high court has turned down two challenges to the use of the electric chair in the past two years, both times on narrow 4- to-3 votes.

In 1997, the electric chair became the center of controversy after flames burst from the head of convict Pedro Medina as he was put to death on "Old Sparky," the chair that had been used in Florida since 1924.

The state eventually built a new electric chair, but last July the controversy resumed when blood oozed from the nose of convict Allen Lee Davis as he was being put to death for killing a pregnant woman and her two daughters.

Despite the physical signs that the electrocutions might be inflicting pain, the state legislature has refused to change its method of execution to lethal injection, as many other states have done in recent years.

"When you have members of the legislature talking about (how) we don't care if there are people who burn up as long as they die ... it shows a bizarre mentality," says Larry Spalding of the American Civil Liberties Union.

First Supreme Court case in 109 years

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by Florida inmate Anthony Braden Bryan, who is under a death sentence for killing a night watchman in 1993. It marks the first time that the nation's highest court has agreed to consider the constitutionality of electrocution since upholding it in 1890.

At issue will be whether the electric chair violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Bush predicted that the justices would view what happened to Davis in the new electric chair "exactly like the trial court and the Florida Supreme Court saw it -- an argument over the nose bleed of a criminal who savagely murdered a pregnant woman and her two daughters."

Bush said he would call a special legislative session to consider another method of execution only if there was demand to do so from lawmakers -- and only if such a move would reduce the amount of time prisoners spend on death row.

"Criminals who are sentenced to death should be given appropriate due process in the courts and then should be executed within some reasonable period," he said.

Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella and Reuters contributed to this report.

Florida invites media to inspect prisons after inmate death
August 19, 1999

Florida Department of Corrections

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