Panel drops firing squad provision from execution bill

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A Senate committee on Thursday removed a firing squad provision from the House bill which would give the state additional options for executing convicted criminals.

The intent of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, was to circumvent legal and logistical hurdles that have delayed executions in Mississippi and other states like lawsuits and lethal injection drug supplies.

The provisions of House Bill 638 stated that if chemicals that replace the traditional injection cocktail — pentobarbital, a muscle relaxer and potassium chloride — meet legal resistances, an alternative sequence would be used.

The original House bill called for a succession of alternative execution methods, in order: nitrogen hypoxia (sealing the condemned in a chamber which is filled with pure nitrogen, depriving them of oxygen, thus causing death), firing squad and electrocution.

But the Senate Judiciary A committee voted almost unanimously Thursday to pass the bill after removing the firing squad provision completely.

“We took out firing squad language, but pretty much everything else remains,” said Sen. Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport and committee chairman.

The bill yielded two minutes of debate in the Senate committee, and Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, was the only “no” vote on final passage.

Forty-seven Mississippi inmates currently sit on Death Row. The last Mississippian executed was Carl Gary Simmons Jr. in June 2012.

The bill spurred a lengthy debate before it passed on the House floor.

Gipson argued that the bill would allow Mississippi to continue implementing capital punishment.

Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton

“The death penalty is something that should be reserved, and is reserved, for the worst offenders. If we want a death penalty in Mississippi, this legislation will allow us to do that,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, who presented the bill.

During questions and answers, Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, asked Gipson, a Baptist preacher, what the Bible says about killing, grace and mercy. Bell followed up by asking Gipson whether the firing squad is inhumane and archaic.

“The state of Mississippi has chosen a humane option,” of lethal injection, Gipson said. “These liberal left wing radicals are trying to stop that.”

The bill will now move to the Senate floor for consideration. If passed there, the House will have to approve the amended version before it moves to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk for signature.