NY to regain death penalty

Three decades after the last inmate on death row at New York's infamous Sing Sing prison was dispatched in the electric chair, the state is poised to reintroduce capital punishment - though the method of execution will change.

On the urging of George Pataki, New York's new Republican governor, members of the state assembly in Albany are expected to finalise negotiations on a death-penalty bill within days. Its final approval and signature by the Governor is certain to follow swiftly.

Barring any blocking action by the courts, the measure will bring New York into line with the 36 US states that have brought back the death penalty since its reintroduction was sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1973.

The Sing Sing chairs - otherwise known as "Old Sparkies" - will not be taken out of mothballs, however. Mr Pataki, whose other mission is to cut the state's budget deficit, reportedly hopes to sell them at auction for as much as $250,000 (£160,000) each.Instead, execution by lethal execution is proposed.

The state Department of Correction is gearing up for its new duty. Advice has been sought from other states, notably Texas and Missouri. A minute-by-minute guide to procedure is likely to be copied directly from Missouri. The details make grim reading. Prisoners would be invited to choose the menu, within limits, for a last meal to be served between 5.30 and 6pm, prior to the execution at 12.01 the next morning. At the moment of the injection, blinds on windows in the execution chamber would be opened to allow witnesses on raised platforms outside to see in.

Mr Pataki made the death penalty's reintroduction a centre-piece of his election campaign last year. Mario Cuomo, whom he defeated, was indefatigably opposed and vetoed previous efforts to bring back the executioner.

Nor has Mr Pataki lost much time since taking office at the start of last month. Running through his programme in his inaugural speech, he won greatest applause for confirming his pledge. Shortly afterwards, he sent Thomas Grasso, an inmate convicted formurders in both New York and Oklahoma, to Oklahoma to face execution in that state - a measure Mr Cuomo had refused to take when he was governor.

For opponents of the death penalty - and Mr Cuomo is still active among them - the only hope seems to be the courts. Though a challenge is almost inevitable, it is not likely to succeed.

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