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Virginia Pols Vote to Force Prisoners to Electric Chair

It's unclear if Gov. Terry McAuliffe will sign the bill passed by the state Senate on Monday.

Virginia's Senate passed a bill Monday that would force death-row prisoners into the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

A spokesman for Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, would not say if he plans to sign the bill into law. Because of an amendment, the bill has to go back to the House for final approval before it goes to the governor's desk.

Virginia is one of a number of states that have been unable to obtain execution drugs and have looked for alternatives. Utah has enacted the firing squad as a backup, and Tennessee green-lighted the electric chair.

But Virginia's bill — which passed the house in February and was approved 22-17 by the Senate on Monday — would mandate the electric chair if signed into law and upheld by the courts.

Death penalty opponents in Virginia, which has the third-highest execution total in the country, are hoping McAuliffe vetoes the bill.

"There is no humane way to kill another human being but it is our opinion that electrocution is worse than lethal injection," said Michael Stone, executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"You're basically cooking a human being while they are alive."

Virginia's electric chairAnonymous / AP file

McAuliffe's representatives have said in the past that while he opposes capital punishment as a Catholic, he has to carry out Virginia's laws as governor.

He declined to stop the execution of serial killer Alfredo Prieto in October. Officials used a drug they obtained from Texas but say they no longer have the chemicals necessary to kill anyone else.

Death-row prisoners in Virginia have been able to opt for the electric chair over the syringe since 1995, although only seven out of 87 have, most recently in 2013.