Beliefnet

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Florida Senate gave unanimous approval today to a bill allowing death row inmates to choose to die by lethal injection.

With electrocutions on hold in Florida, lawmakers hope to make moot a question the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider: whether death in the electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment.

The House was considering a similar bill, and both chambers have until Friday afternoon to work out any differences.

Flames have erupted during two electrocutions in the last decade, and the last condemned man, Allen Lee "Tiny'' Davis, suffered a nosebleed during his electrocution. Pictures of his bloody body and contorted face were posted on the Internet and have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people after the state Supreme Court upheld use of the chair.

Some senators didn't want to add an alternate method. But they said they were voting to give the condemned inmates a choice between electrocution and lethal injection because appeals have halted executions.

Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite said the courts were "finding it increasingly difficult to abide by what they consider an untidy method of execution.''

But with the issue before the nation's high court, Brown-Waite said there was no choice.

"We don't want the courts to be the legislators,'' she said. ``My constituents want . . . the delays stopped. We're here today to make sure that justice truly is swift.''

Sen. Ron Silver said getting a shot with a hypodermic needle is "`too easy'' a punishment. But Silver also voted for the measure anyway, in an effort to let the state resume executions.

Gov. Jeb Bush hasn't been able to sign any death warrants since the court agreed in October to take a look at the use of the chair.

The electric chair has been used in Florida to execute 240 men and one woman over 75 years. The chair nicknamed "Old Sparky'' was replaced before the Davis execution with a new chair that, like the 1920s original, is made of oak and has the same electrical system.

Florida is one of four states with an electric chair as the sole method of execution. Most of the 38 states with capital punishment have switched to lethal injection.

Bush supports the idea of injections but wants the appeals process for death row inmates shortened as well. Currently, the condemned wait on average more than 10 years before being executed in Florida, and Bush wants that shortened to five years.

Lawmakers rolled the two ideas into one bill, but that threatened the whole bill. In a concession to opponents, the governor's office Wednesday allowed the ideas to be split. The appeals bills also were being considered today.

In another concession, senators pushing for lethal injection agreed to take up another bill to ban the execution of mentally retarded people. Mentally ill people can't be executed, but mentally retarded people can.




Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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