Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday rejected an effort to force Virginia’s condemned inmates to die in the electric chair, replacing the proposal with one that would keep secret the identities of pharmacies that supply lethal injection drugs to Virginia.
McAuliffe stripped the electric chair provisions out of the contentious bill and vowed to veto the measure if lawmakers don’t approve his changes, which he said offer a “reasonable middle ground” on an emotionally charged issue. He warned that unless lawmakers approve his proposal, capital punishment will come to a halt in Virginia.
Lawmakers “have the opportunity to be part of the solution,” McAuliffe said. “If they pass up that opportunity, they will bring the death penalty to an end here in Virginia,” he said.
McAuliffe’s amendment would give the state the authority to compound its own execution drug “cocktails” using products from pharmacies whose identities would remain confidential.
Without the secrecy provision, the measure is “only an empty gesture,” McAuliffe said, because drug manufacturers will continue to refuse to do business in Virginia unless their names are kept under wraps. Florida, Texas and Ohio have applied similar provisions in their compounding laws, he said.
Virginia is one of at least eight states that allow electrocutions, but currently gives inmates the choice of lethal injection or the electric chair.
The original bill sought to allow the state to use the electric chair when lethal injection drugs are unavailable. Supporters of that measure said Virginia has no choice, because death penalty opponents have made it so difficult to find the drugs.
McAuliffe faced intense pressure to veto the electric chair bill from religious groups and death penalty opponents, who say electrocutions are cruel and unusual punishment.
The governor said Monday that he finds the electric chair “reprehensible,” adding that Virginians don’t want to revert back to a past when “excessively inhumane punishments were committed in their name.”
It’s unclear whether there will be enough support in the General Assembly to approve McAuliffe’s amendment.
A similar measure backed by the governor failed in the General Assembly last year. Republican Del. Jackson Miller, who sponsored the electric chair bill, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment on Monday.
Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell, a staunch death penalty opponent, said he’s pleased that McAuliffe didn’t sign the electric chair bill, but has serious concerns about shrouding the execution process in secrecy.
“For some reason, the Department of Corrections seems to be obsessed with secrecy,” he said. “Of all the things that we ought to require transparency on, the execution of human being seems to be something that ought to have max transparency, not minimum transparency.”