Politian Says He ‘Wants to Bring Back Hangings’

A Tennessee GOP lawmaker suggested bringing back hangings for death penalty offenses during a debate over expanding the Volunteer State’s death penalty statutes this week.

As some pharmaceutical companies have declined to continue manufacturing the cocktail of drugs necessary to carry out lethal injections, some states, like South Carolina and now Tennessee, have considered bringing back the use of other, outdated means of executing people.

This comes amid an inability to obtain those drugs and concerns by some inmates that other methods are too painful. These methods have included the use of firing squads and devices like the electric chair—a long-reliable and inexpensive means of putting inmates to death that some have argued in court is a cruel and unusual means of punishment.

The use of both methods is exceedingly rare worldwide, opponents have argued, while scientific evidence has failed to prove whether death row inmates feel pain or even die instantly during the execution.

Even today, just four states allow the use of death by firing squad, and the method remains in legal limbo in South Carolina, which formally legalized its use last year. Last year, officials with the Tennessee Department of Corrections said the method would be difficult to implement while noting that “death by firing squad would not significantly reduce the risk of severe pain.”

During testimony on bringing back the firing squad, state Representative Paul Sherrell suggested an additional method lawmakers could consider: hanging from the neck with a rope until the person is dead.

“Could I put an amendment on that that would include hanging on a tree also?” he asked.

It does not appear Sherrell’s amendment was adopted, according to a review of Tennessee’s legislation website. And the method of execution is rare, with no recorded executions by hanging anywhere in this country since the 1996 execution of Delaware’s Billy Bailey.

Since then, the method has all but disappeared in the U.S. Just three states—Delaware, Washington and New Hampshire—kept hangings as an acceptable method of carrying out death sentences after the 1976 reinstatement of the death penalty by a federal court. But all three have since abolished the death penalty entirely, making it likely that nobody will be legally hanged to death in the United States until the method is made law.

And if they do, they will likely need to defend it in court. While figures like Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein were famously put to death by hanging, the efficacy of such executions is ambiguous. Death can range from a matter of seconds to minutes, depending on myriad factors such as the length of the rope, the height of the drop or the weight of the prisoner.

The consequences of a botched execution can be dire, according to the Death Penalty Information Center—and there is plenty that can go wrong.

“If the prisoner has strong neck muscles, is very light, if the ‘drop’ is too short, or the noose has been wrongly positioned, the fracture-dislocation is not rapid and death results from slow asphyxiation,” the center wrote in a policy brief describing the penalty.

“If this occurs the face becomes engorged, the tongue protrudes, the eyes pop, the body defecates, and violent movements of the limbs occur,” the brief said.

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