Killer's last-minute request for 'less painful' electric chair death

A Tennessee inmate has made a last-minute request to be put to death in the electric chair, rather than by the state's preference of lethal injection.

The state Department of Correction on Wednesday confirmed 56-year-old Stephen West made the request and said the execution will be carried out by electrocution on Thursday.

West was convicted of the 1986 kidnapping and stabbing deaths of a mother and her 15-year-old daughter, and of raping the teen.

West said his then-17-year-old accomplice killed both victims. The co-defendant received a life sentence, with parole possible in 2030.

Lethal injection and electrocution both ‘unconstitutional’

West's lawyer described both options of lethal injection and electrocution as “unconstitutional” in his still-active US Supreme Court challenge, as he seeks a stay in the execution.

"Seeking to avoid the constitutionally-impermissible pain and suffering created by Tennessee's three-drug midazolam-based protocol, Mr West has, as have two other Tennessee inmates before him, agreed to be executed by the also-unconstitutional, yet still less painful, method of execution, Tennessee's electric chair," his lawyer wrote in the court filing.

Tennessee killer Stephen West has made a last-minute request to be put to death in the electric chair instead of dying by lethal injection. Source: Tennessee Department of Corrections via AP

Two Tennessee inmates, David Miller and Edmund Zagorski, chose to die by electric chair in 2018 because of concerns about pain associated with the state's lethal injection procedure.

Both unsuccessfully argued to courts that Tennessee's procedure, which uses the drug midazolam, results in a prolonged and torturous death.

Before this year, the last time a state used the electric chair to execute an inmate was 2013.

Tennessee has also put two inmates to death by injection since August 2018.

West's lawyer has argued that some "feasible and readily implemented alternative methods of execution exist that significantly reduce the substantial risk of severe pain and suffering" compared with the state's three-drug protocol or electrocution: a single bullet to the back of the head, a firing squad, a "euthanasia oral cocktail" or one-drug pentobarbital, according to a February court filing.

Tennessee inmates can opt for electric chair execution

In Tennessee, condemned inmates whose crimes occurred before 1999 can opt for the electric chair. Tennessee is one of six US states that allow such a choice, according to a database from the Death Penalty Information Centre.

Three others allow the electric chair as a backup method.

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