Electric Chair Eliminated As Death Penalty Option

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday signed a bill outlawing the electric chair in Ohio, thwarting a condemned killer's request to die by electrocution to illustrate capital punishment's brutality.

John W. Byrd Jr., who says he is innocent of stabbing a convenience store clerk to death, was scheduled to die in the electric chair in September before a federal appeals court postponed the execution.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, makes lethal injection the only option for capital punishment in Ohio.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jim Trakas, an Independence Republican who opposes the death penalty. Trakas has called his proposal an important first step toward eliminating the death penalty in Ohio.

Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, supported the bill, saying the electric chair was inhumane and would put too much stress on prison staff.

Byrd, 37, was convicted of the 1983 slaying of a Cincinnati convenience store clerk. He admits participating in the fatal robbery of Monte Tewksbury but said another man stabbed Tewksbury to death.

Byrd has no legal grounds to request execution by electrocution now that the law has taken effect, said Andrea Dean, a DRC spokeswoman.

"He doesn't have a new execution date set, so this isn't anything that could be retroactive," she said.

David Bodiker, the state public defender who has been representing Byrd, said Wednesday he had not looked into how the new law would affect Byrd.

"We're not planning on John being executed, so we've not been planning on how we're going to do it," Bodiker said.

Two men have died by injection since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)