Fla. lawmaker wants to bring back firing squads

TALLAHASSEE – 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 could choose between electrocution or a firing squad, under the proposal.

Drake, R-Eucheeanna, said the idea came to him after having a conversation with a constituent at a DeFuniak Springs Waffle House over the legal battles associated with the Sept. 28 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, therefore, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Courts, however, rejected that argument and let the execution go forward.

But Drake said a person at the restaurant questioned why death row inmates should even be allowed to die by lethal injection. Drake said he agreed, and decided to sponsor the bill, which would mandate a switch. The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature will consider the bill during the 2012 session that starts in January.

He said that government is spending too much time listening to advocacy groups and instead should put in place a death sentence that forces convicted murderers to contemplate their fates.

Drake said lethal injection just allows a person to die in their sleep, while a firing squad or electrocution would force death row inmates to think about their punishment “every morning.”

“I think if you ask a hundred people, not even talking to criminals, how would you like to die, if you were drowned, if you were shot, and if, you say, you were put to sleep, (about) 90 percent of some of the people would say I want to be put to sleep,” Drake said. “Let’s put our pants back on the right way.”

Florida first began using the electric chair in 1924. Before then, most executions were carried out by hanging.

But the state switched to lethal injection in 2000. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature pushed through the change after several botched electrocutions raised concerns that the state’s death penalty would be declared unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court had agreed at the time to hear a challenge to the use of the electric chair.

Since the state made the switch, a total of 26 people have died by lethal injection, including Valle and infamous serial killers Danny Rolling and Aileen Wuornos.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said Drake’s legislation would just cause “embarrassment” for Florida if it were adopted.

“Just when you thought that public policy in Florida couldn’t get worse, along comes a state rep who develops proposed legislation from what he overhears at the Waffle House,” Simon said. “Given all that former members of the Florida Supreme Court and the American Bar Association have said about Florida’s broken death penalty system, including the nation’s highest number of exonerations, this would be embarrassing – if our legislature were capable of embarrassment.”

But Drake said that those who caused suffering and grief for families should get their day of reckoning.

“I just don’t think they should be able to get off that easy,” he said.