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Anti-Death Penalty Group Claims Virginia Is Playing Politics With Execution

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The Virginia Death Penalty Coalition, which opposes the death penalty, has released a statement claiming the state Department of Corrections has the drugs it needs to perform the scheduled March 16 execution by lethal injection and that the department's claim that it lacks the drugs is being used to pressure legislators to bring back the electric chair.

"Virginia would be just one of two states in the country that use the chair as their default method of execution. It would also grant unfettered authority to the DOC Director to determine how executions are carried out," said Michael E. Stone executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

The coalition is comprised of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, ACLU of Virginia and the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Ricky Gray is sentenced to die March 16 for killing two young girls in Richmond in 2006. In all, he and his nephew are linked to the killings of nine people, including the girls’ parents.

Corrections officials have said they have two lethal doses of the first drug in the deadly cocktail needed for execution. They have also said they do not have enough of the first-step drug for the execution.

Last week, the House of Delegates passed legislation that would make the electric chair an option for future executions. If it passes the Senate and Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs it, Gray could be executed in the electric chair after July 1.

Corrections officials obtained three vials of pentobarbital, the first drug in the state’s three-drug cocktail, from Texas last year to execute convicted murderer Alfredo Prieto. They used one vial to kill Prieto and say there are two unexpired vials left.

But they also say they don’t have the step-one drugs they need to kill Gray.

“The Department currently doesn’t have the step-one drugs necessary to carry out a death sentence by lethal injection. I can’t comment further regarding lethal injection drugs due to potential litigation,” Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney said in an email. “The Department still has two vials of pentobarbital from Texas. They expire in April.”

When asked to clarify last week, Kinney said the Department of Corrections “absolutely does not have the lethal injection drugs necessary to carry out a death sentence by lethal injection.”

The state could amend its lethal injection protocol to accommodate its existing stock of drugs to carry out the execution, Stone said.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that in a well-administered system, there are often backup supplies of the execution drugs.

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