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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 18:20 GMT

World: Americas

US to decide electric chair's fate

Florida inmates cannot be killed by electric chair until the matter is resolved

The United States Supreme Court is to decide whether executions in the electric chair amount to an unconstitutional "cruel and unusual punishment" - an issue it last considered over a century ago.

The high court granted a stay of execution for Florida inmate Anthony Bryan who had been scheduled to be put to death by electrocution on Wednesday and said it would consider whether to uphold or strike down the procedure.

A court spokesman said a decision on the punishment was not expected until early next year. Until a ruling is handed down, neither Bryan, nor any other Florida inmate, can be executed by the electric chair.

Bryan was sentenced to death in 1986 for the kidnapping and murder in 1983 of George Wilson, a night watchman for a seafood company in Pascagoula, Mississippi.


The use of the electric chair has caused controversy in Florida after a number of problems occurred in earlier executions.

During the execution of Allen Lee Davis in July, blood flowed from his nose. Witness accounts and photographs taken immediately after the execution also raised the possibility that a strap covering Davis' mouth had caused him partially to asphyxiate.

[ image: Blood flowed from the nose of Allen Davis]
Blood flowed from the nose of Allen Davis
During two other executions in 1990 and 1997, flames burst from the headpiece worn by condemned Florida killers as they were put to death.

Florida is just one of four states - alongside Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska - that requires condemned killers to be put to death by electrocution. Most of the 38 states with capital punishment have switched to lethal injection.

The Supreme Court has not reviewed the electric chair as a method of execution since 1890, when New York became the first state to approve its use.

Lethal injection

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 421 executions have been carried out by lethal injection while there have been 144 electrocutions, the Death Penalty Information Centre said.

The group, which opposes capital punishment, said 11 inmates had been executed in the gas chamber, three put to death by hanging and two executed by firing squads since 1976.

The Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for Bryan after Florida's Supreme Court postponed his death until Friday.

Florida's Supreme Court last month upheld the constitutionality of the electric chair by a 4-3 vote, ruling that it did not violate the Eighth Amendment's provision against cruel and unusual punishment.

The US Supreme Court judges are set to hear arguments in the electric chair case in February or March next year, with a ruling due by the end of June.

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