Senator aims to make electrocution the default method of execution in Virginia

by | Nov 21, 2014 | POLITICS

As the controversy surrounding the drug cocktail used for lethal injection grows, Virginia lawmakers and the state’s Department of Corrections are looking for an alternative default route to carry out the death penalty.

As the controversy surrounding the drug cocktail used for lethal injection grows, Virginia lawmakers and the state’s Department of Corrections are looking for an alternative default route to carry out the death penalty.

State Sentator Bill Carrico (R-40) has introduced a bill which would address this issue. As state law currently stands, a prisoner who is found guilty by a jury of his peers and is sentenced to death has the option of choosing either lethal injection or electrocution.

If the prisoner does not make a choice, the state then defaults to lethal injection. Senator Carrico’s bill, SB607, would change the default from lethal injection to electrocution.

The law failed to pass in 2014, but was unanimously voted to be introduced for the 2015 session by the Courts of Justice Committee.

“[The Department of Corrections] had a default in the Code that said the individual had a choice, and if they didn’t choose, the default was lethal injection,” Carrico said. “They had a problem with… the cocktail which they had used to provide death by lethal injection.”

There are a number of problems with Virginia’s three-drug cocktail–which now includes the drug midazolam, used in botched executions in Arizona and Ohio–but the biggest problem facing the Department of Corrections is there is currently a nationwide shortage of the drugs needed to perform these executions.

“Knowing that they couldn’t get the cocktail,” Carrico said, “The Department of Corrections wouldn’t be able to carry out what the jury of their peers felt was the punishment.”

Senator Carrico also said the companies creating and providing states with the cocktails are wary about continuing their partnership with states.

“It’s obvious the cocktails are not working,” he said. “Because the pharmaceutical companies don’t want to be associated [with] them.”

Death by electrocution may seem outdated for modern times, but this method was used as recently as 2013, when Robert Charles Gleason Jr. chose the electric chair after murdering two of his fellow inmates.

Senator Carrico said Virginia “had used death by electrocution and was very successful at it” before lethal injection was first used in 1995.

But Senator Carrico wants to make it clear that death by electrocution would only be the default if the Director of the Department of Corrections cannot guarantee or obtain the drugs needed for lethal injection.

“They can still choose,” Carrico said. “But if they didn’t choose and the cocktail wasn’t available, then electrocution would be the [default].”

This bill is not without its opponents. The ACLU of Virginia, in their 2015 General Assembly Pres-session Report, said they “[oppose] legislation that would enable the Commonwealth to keep the machinery of death going.”

Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP), in a message to its supporters dated May 8, said most states have abolished electrocution and using this method as a default “would be a step backwards for Virginia public policy as well as an egregious affront to human dignity.”

VADP was established in 1991. The group seeks to inform the public about alternatives to the death penalty and support human rights.

Use of the death penalty in the state of Virginia has declined in recent years. The Death Penalty Information Center reports Virginia has executed one person in 2013 and 2014 combined. In spite of these low numbers, however, the Commonwealth has performed the third highest number of executions in the United States since 1976, totaling in at 110 individuals.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is the former editor of GayRVA and RVAMag from 2013 - 2017. He’s now the Richmond Bureau Chief for Radio IQ, a state-wide NPR outlet based in Roanoke. You can reach him at

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