US

Idaho will allow prisoners on death row to be executed by firing squad due to a US nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs.

Dwindling supplies of the substances needed have increasingly seen pharmaceutical companies ban jails from using them for killing inmates.

Idaho has now joined Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, and South Carolina in allowing death by firing squad if other execution techniques are unavailable.

South Carolina’s law is on hold pending a legal challenge, but Idaho’s bill passed through its state legislature without issue earlier this week and was signed by Republican governor Brad Little.

Mr Little said: “While I am signing this bill, it is important to point out that fulfilling justice can and must be done by minimising stress on corrections personnel.

“For the people on death row, a jury convicted them of their crimes, and they were lawfully sentenced to death.”

Read more:
Georgia death row inmate allowed to ask for firing squad instead of lethal injection

But senator Dan Foreman, also a Republican, called firing-squad executions “beneath the dignity of the state”.

They would traumatise the executioners, witnesses, and the staff who clean up afterward, he said.

And the state’s prisons department director, Jeff Tewalt, said he would be reluctant to ask workers to participate.

The department also estimates it will cost $750,000 (£613,000) to build or retrofit a death chamber.

How does death by firing squad work?

Execution by firing squad has been an option in the state of Utah since it was brought back there in 2015.

The prisoner is seated in a chair that is set up in front of a wood panel and in between stacked sandbags that keep the bullets from ricocheting around the room.

A target is pinned over the inmate’s heart. Shooters aim for the chest rather than the head because it’s a bigger target and usually allows for a faster death.

Five shooters set up about 25 feet (8 meters) from the chair, with their .30-caliber Winchester rifles pointing through slots in a wall. Assuming they hit their target, the heart ruptures and the prisoner dies quickly from blood loss.

The gunmen are chosen from a pool of volunteer officers, with priority given to those from the area where the crime happened.

The shooters’ identities are kept anonymous, and one of their rifles is loaded with a blank round so nobody knows which officer killed the inmate.

In 2010, Ronnie Lee Gardner was declared dead two minutes after he was shot at Utah State Prison. He was the last person killed by firing squad in the US.

Electric chairs and nitrogen gas

While federal executions have been put on hold since 2021, under orders of President Joe Biden‘s attorney general, individual states can carry them out.

The issue with drug supplies has seen some states consider non-firing squad methods.

This includes refurbishing electric chairs, despite a judge ruling last year that they constitute torture, while Alabama has built an as yet untried system for executing people using nitrogen gas to induce hypoxia.

Mr Biden had pledged during his 2020 election campaign to work towards ending the death penalty nationwide, but hasn’t pressed the issue since becoming president.

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