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Mississippi could debate firing squad as execution method

 

JACKSON — Mississippi’s attorney general said Wednesday that he will ask lawmakers to approve the firing squad, electrocution or nitrogen gas as alternate methods of execution in case the state is prevented from giving lethal injections.

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs since European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections. Executions are on hold in Mississippi because the state’s supply of lethal-injection drugs expired. In October, Ohio delayed executions for a year while it searches for the drugs.

“It just provides a fallback position in case there is some declaration of unconstitutionality or some of the anti-death-penalty groups are able to shut down the flow of chemicals that are required to carry out executions,” Democrat Jim Hood said of the alternatives.

The ACLU of Mississippi issued a statement Wednesday rejecting all of them.

“We vehemently oppose the articulated, alternative, barbaric means (of execution) Attorney General Hood proposes,” the statement said.

Last spring, Utah approved the firing squad and Oklahoma became the first state to approve nitrogen gas as alternate methods of execution if the lethal-injection drugs are unavailable.

There are no reports of nitrogen gas ever being used to execute humans. Critics say the lack of previous use is one of their main concerns, but supporters say nitrogen-induced hypoxia — or a lack of oxygen in the blood — would be a humane method of execution.

Hood also said he wants to block public access to names of people who sell lethal-injection drugs to the state and those who help carry out executions — information that is already the subject of a court fight.

“What we’re seeing is people abusing these pharmacies, the execution team, putting their names and faces and personal information up on the Internet,” Hood said.

The Mississippi Supreme Court heard arguments in November, but has not ruled, on a lawsuit that seeks to compel the state to disclose information about the supplier of execution drugs. A lower court judge ruled for disclosure as a public record in March, but the information has remained secret while the state appeals the decision.

Attorney Jim Craig is co-director of the New Orleans-based Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which filed the lawsuit. Craig said Wednesday there is no evidence to show people have been harassed for supplying lethal-injection drugs or being involved in the execution process.

“It is the essence of American democracy that government be conducted in the open with no secrets kept from the people,” he said.

Mississippi has never used the firing squad, and it last used the electric chair in 1952, Craig said.

“Mr. Hood’s grandstanding proposal will not advance public safety or allow executions to resume,” Craig said. “It will only launch a new round of costly and lengthy litigation.”

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