Supreme Court rejects

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 24, 2000

electric chair challenge


Staff Writer

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A Brundidge man’s date of execution will be set after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the use of Alabama’s electric chair.

On Tuesday, the nation’s highest court voted 5-4 to turn away an appeal by death row inmate Robert Lee Tarver that called the electric chair "cruel and unusual punishment," which is forbidden by the Constitution.

The 52-year-old man was convicted of the 1984 robbery and murder of Hugh Kite. Kite was outside the bait shop and grocery store he owned in Cottondale when he was shot several times and robbed of his wallet.

Tarver contended Alabama’s method of the death penalty is "antiquated" and has a risk of "excessive burning, disfigurement and…pain and suffering."

Although the court’s order does not set a legal precedent, it does allow Alabama officials to set a date of execution for Tarver. The Alabama Attorney General’s Office filed a motion Tuesday asking the state Supreme Court to set that date.

The Pike County native was scheduled to go to the electric chair Feb. 4, but the Alabama Supreme Court delayed the execution hours before it was to take place.

Tarver’s attorney Bryan Stevenson said the state will have to do something in regards to giving death row inmates an option.

"This will continue to be an issue that plagues the administration in capital cases until the method of execution has changed," Stevenson, who is from the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, told the Associated Press. "I think the court is still very concerned about the issue."

A bill which would made lethal injection the primary means of execution in Alabama is pending in the Alabama Senate.

Attorney General Bill Pryor and Gov. Don Siegelman have stated they want the legislature to allow lethal injection if federal courts declare the electric chair unconstitutional. A bill to that case is in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Although four Supreme Court justices voted to hear arguments in Tarver’s case, five votes were needed to grant such a review. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas voted against Tarver. Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Beyer voted to hear Tarver’s arguments.

Despite the ruling, there is still doubt whether Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska can continue without offering an alternative to the electric chair.

Freddie Lee Wright, 48, is scheduled to die in Alabama’s electric chair on March 3. The state’s second-longest-serving death row inmate was convicted of killing Warren and Lois Green in 1977. The Greens were murdered at their Mobile County auto parts store.

Wright will be the second to die in the electric chair this year.

David Ray Duren, 37, was executed on Jan. 7 for the robbery and shooting death of a Jefferson County teen. Kathleen Bedsole, 16, was murdered in 1983.

Alabama is one of only three states that use the electric chair as the only means of execution.

The Georgia House of Representatives voted Monday to phase out electrocution and use lethal injection. That legislation will go to the Georgia Senate for approval.

Last year, Florida changed its primary means of execution to lethal injection, but inmates have the option to choose the electric chair.

"With every new state that moves away from death by electrocution, the constitutional argument of the electric chair as cruel and unusual punishment grows stronger," Stevenson said.

Out of 50 states, 38 have death penalty laws. Of the 98 death row inmates executed in 1999, 94 were killed by injection. Three were electrocuted and one was killed by cyanide gas.