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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 20:17 GMT
Florida switches to execution by injection

Resting: The electric chair has caused controversy

Florida has carried out its first execution by injection, a month after changing the law to give condemned prisoners the choice between lethal drugs or the electric chair.

Terry Melvin Sims, 58, had been sentenced to death for killing an off-duty sheriff's deputy in 1977.

It was a textbook execution, like watching someone go to sleep
Prison spokesman CJ Drake
Florida has used the electric chair to carry out death sentences since 1924.

But this year it decided to allow death row inmates the option of choosing injection following problems with the electric chair.

In March 1997, flames shot from the headpiece of Pedro Medina as he was electrocuted.

In July last year, photographs taken of Allen Lee Davis, the last man to die in the electric chair, showed blood flowing from his nose.

Davis' execution prompted the US Supreme Court to agree to hear a case challenging Florida's use of the electric chair as a "cruel and unusual" punishment.

After the state law was changed to allow injection, the court dropped its review.

Sims said a prayer in Hebrew just before he died in a state prison in the northern city of Starke, Florida.

Woman to die

Prison spokesman CJ Drake said: "It was a textbook execution, like watching someone go to sleep."

Of the 38 US states that use the death penalty, only Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska use the electric chair as the sole means of execution.

Meanwhile, Texas governor and presidential hopeful George W Bush is to decide whether to grant a stay of execution to a 62-year-old woman on death row.

Betty Lou Beets is due to die by injection on Thursday for shooting her husband to death.

On Tuesday the state parole board refused to halt the planned execution.

Since the parole board did not recommend that Beets' sentence be commuted, Mr Bush's only option under Texas law is to grant a one-off 30-day stay of execution.

Beets would be only the second woman executed in Texas since the Civil War.

But her prospects for a stay of execution are not good. Mr Bush has permitted 119 executions since taking office five years ago, sparing only one prisoner, citing flimsy evidence.

The fairness of the death penalty in the US has received renewed attention since Governor George Ryan of Illinois suspended executions until the state's death penalty procedures are examined.

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See also:
09 Jul 99 |  Americas
Row over new electric chair
23 Mar 98 |  Americas
'Old Sparky' to kill again
27 Oct 99 |  Americas
US to decide electric chair's fate
14 Apr 98 |  Despatches
UN attacks US execution policy
31 Jan 00 |  Americas
Illinois suspends executions
19 Dec 98 |  Americas
US executes 500th prisoner

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