NASHVILLE — Protesters at the state Capitol voiced opposition Tuesday to a new law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam allowing the use of the electric chair if lethal injection drugs are unavailable to execute condemned prisoners.
The roughly 50 protesters on War Memorial Plaza prayed and sang songs. Some held signs. One read: "Execute Justice, Not People."
The protest came a few days after last week's signing. While much of the focus was on the new law, the protesters said they would also like to see the Republican governor and state lawmakers scrap the death penalty in Tennessee altogether.
"We prefer life to death, whatever that life looks like," said Sara Tate, a United Methodist minister and one of the event's organizers.
The law will allow the state to use electrocution against any current or future death row inmate if lethal injection drugs become unavailable.
In truth, Tennessee never abandoned the electric chair. Killers who committed their crimes before the state adopted lethal injection in 1999 have been given the choice of electrocution or the needle.
But the new law could take that choice away from the inmates and make everyone on death row subject to the electric chair.
Tennessee has no lethal injection drugs on hand, though officials insist they can obtain them when needed. There are 74 prisoners on the state's death row. The next execution is scheduled for October.
The last time Tennessee used the electric chair was in 2007, when Daryl Holton, who killed his three sons and a stepdaughter with a rifle in a garage, chose electrocution.
Earlier Tuesday, Haslam told reporters following a speech at an event at Lipscomb University that he took into consideration lawmakers' support for the electric chair legislation before signing it.
"This is a law that was passed overwhelmingly by the state Legislature," he said. "I ... think as governor one of the things you take into account is, what did the vote look like and is there a legal reason not to do it? And in this case the vote was overwhelming and there definitely wasn't a legal reason not to sign it."
Death penalty supporter Brenda Tindall attended the rally and told protesters that she supports the governor's decision to sign the bill — and capital punishment in general — because she believes it's one of the strongest deterrents to particularly violent crimes.
"I know a lot about torture, the things that have been done to young children, and even to adults," said Tindall, who has been a child abuse prevention volunteer for 40 years. "If someone murders a young child ... they need to go."