Fla. lawmaker files bill to bring back firing squads

Deborah Denno in msnbc.com, October 13, 2011

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Saying it's time to stop letting convicted killers "get off that easy," a Florida state lawmaker wants to use firing squads or the electric chair for those on death row.

Rep. Brad Drake filed a bill this week that would end the use of lethal injection in Florida executions.

Instead, those with a death sentence would choose between electrocution or a firing squad.

Drake, a Republican, said the idea came to him after having a conversation with a constituent at a Waffle House over the legal battles associated with last month's execution of Manuel Valle.

Valle's lawyers tried to stop the execution by arguing that a new lethal drug cocktail would cause him pain and constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Drake said in a news release that the bill was filed to "end the debate" over what drugs to use.

'Lead cocktail'
"We still have Old Sparky. And if that doesn't suit the criminal, then we will provide them a .45 caliber lead cocktail instead," he said in the release.

"I am sick and tired of this sensitivity movement for criminals. Every time there is a warranted execution that is about to take place, some man or woman is standing on a corner holding a sign, yelling and screaming for humane treatment," he added. "I have no desire to humanely respect those that are inhumane."

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature will consider Drake's bill during the 2012 session.

The bill, which is available online, says a change in the method of execution "does not increase the punishment or modify the penalty of death for capital murder."

"Nothing contained in this chapter is intended to require any ... employee of the Department of Corrections or any other person to assist in any aspect of an execution which is contrary to the person's moral or ethical beliefs," it adds.

Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University law school and an expert on methods of execution, said Drake's idea was a "good suggestion."

She told msnbc.com in a telephone interview that a firing squad execution was the "most humane" and "most dignified" method of those that can be used in the U.S.

Denno said this was probably followed by hanging, with lethal injections and the electric chair tied for third and lethal gas as the least humane method.

'Wild West'
She said this was partly because there are trained marksmen capable of carrying out firing squad executions properly, whereas the U.S. does not have executioners properly trained in the other methods because too few were carried out.

"I think people think of it as an antiquated procedure ... without realizing it's so much more humane than what we do to kill people," Denno said of firing squad executions. "Ironically, they equate it with the Wild West ... (and) barbarity."

Denno said she opposed the death penalty as it is currently administered, saying it was used disproportionally against minorities and low-income people.

But said she was not sure she would be against it if it was "perfectly applied" and used against "the worst of the worst."

Valle, 61, fatally shot Coral Gables officer Louis Pena in 1978. He also shot fellow officer Gary Spell, who was saved by his bulletproof vest and later testified against Valle.

Florida Supreme Court had temporarily halted the execution after Valle's attorneys argued the state's use of the drug pentobarbital in its three-drug lethal injection cocktail might not render Valle unconscious, thus subjecting him to significant pain when the other two drugs were administered.

Pena's son, also named Louis Pena, was 19 when his father was killed and now is 53.

After the execution, he noted that Valle's case worked through the courts for years, adding: "He killed a cop and lived 33 years. This man lived another lifetime after taking a life."