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COLUMN

Happytown

This week we contemplated cruel and unusual punishment. Would it be death by firing squad, electric chair or a blood-spitting whip at the Holy Land Experience with Lizz Winstead? We'd prefer the comedic Jesus option, frankly.

Photo: Billy Manes, License: N/A

Billy Manes


Is the fall here yet? If it is, forgive us. We’re still feeling a little stuffy, given the preponderance of body heat, hot tempers, the heat of passion and other heat-generating metaphors. But since we cover populist outrage extensively in the following pages, we’re going make room here for a different breed of frustrated outburst and violent thought. We turn to state Rep. Brad Drake, R-Eucheeanna, who, on Oct. 11, filed HB 325, which would eliminate lethal injection as a method of execution, replacing it with – get ready – a firing squad. “There shouldn’t be anything controversial about a .45-caliber bullet,” Drake told the Florida Current. “If it were up to me we would just throw them off the Sunshine Skyway bridge and be done with it.” (The second remark doesn’t reflect reality: Though the 431-foot-tall Tampa Bay bridge has allowed most of the 100-plus suicides to go according to plan, at least a half-dozen jumpers have survived their falls.)

According to the Current, Drake got the firing squad idea from a constituent at a Waffle House in DeFuniak Springs who was apparently exasperated at what he saw as the kid-glove handling of convicted cop- killer Manuel Valle. The death row inmate’s lawyers were able to delay his execution for nearly two months because of fears that pentobarbital, a new drug used to render prisoners unconscious for executions, may not actually work reliably. In addition, the manufacturer of the drug, Danish drug company Lundbeck, issued a letter of protest to Gov. Rick Scott. “The use of pentobarbital outside of the approved labeling has not been established,” the company’s president, Staffan Schuberg, wrote. “As such Lundbeck cannot assure the safety and efficacy profiles in such instances.” Yet on Sept. 28, Valle received a dose of pentobarbital anyway, and shortly thereafter, two other chemicals that paralyzed him and stopped his heart. Drake couldn’t care less. “I am so tired of being humane to inhumane people,” Drake told the Current. “In the words of Humphrey Bogart [sic], ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.’”

Drake’s plan would eliminate lethal injection as the default mode of execution, replacing it with the electric chair. What about the firing squad? As it turns out, in Drake’s plan, a death row inmate would have to make a special request in writing to be able to stand blindfolded and wait for the bullets – otherwise, it’ll be a seat in “Old Sparky.” The use of electrocution as a killing option was never eliminated in Florida – ever since lethal injection was introduced in January 2000, the chair has been retained as a second option, which we imagine was in deference to those who get squeamish around needles. Yet according to Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff, none of the 26 people that the state of Florida has executed since then have requested to be fried with 2,300 volts of electricity. It’s hard to blame them – in both 1990 and 1997, electrocuted inmates treated viewers to a morbid show, with flames reportedly erupting from their heads. After the 1997 fireworks – provided above the horizon of convicted killer Pedro Medina’s scalp – then-Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth commented darkly: “People who wish to commit murder, they’d better not do it in the state of Florida because we may have a problem with the electric chair.”

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