By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said on Monday he would not sign a bill passed by the legislature that would order executions by electric chair when lethal-injection drugs are not available.
McAuliffe is recommending instead that state prison officials be allowed to purchase lethal drugs for executions on an emergency basis, with the identities of the pharmacies providing the drugs to be kept secret.
"These amendments deliver a valid path forward to continue VA's capital punishment policy," McAuliffe said on Twitter.
"Our citizens share my concerns and do not wish to be forced into using this terrible form of punishment," he said, referring to the electric chair.
Corrections Department officials have said lethal-injection drugs have become more difficult to obtain with drug companies increasingly unwilling to sell them because they do not want to be associated with the death penalty.
Some 300 U.S. religious leaders last week urged McAuliffe to veto the bill, calling it a "barbarous relic" in an open letter.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, told reporters Monday that if he vetoed the electric-chair bill it would essentially shut down capital punishment in Virginia, and the Republican-dominated legislature would have to accept his amendments to the bill.
Lawmakers reconvene on April 20 to consider the governor's vetoes and recommendations.
The electric-chair issue created controversy over whether it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
Currently, state law gives condemned inmates the choice between the electric chair and injection. Unless an inmate chooses the electric chair, the state’s only option is lethal injection.
Last year, Virginia obtained vials of pentobarbital from Texas to execute Alfredo Prieto for murder.
Two executions were scheduled in Virginia this year but each led to a stay in federal court and no executions are currently scheduled.
In January, the Virginia Department of Corrections said it did not have enough of a certain drug to carry out a lethal-injection execution that had been scheduled for March of Ricky Javon Gray.
Gray, 39, was convicted of the New Year’s Day 2006 murders of Bryan Harvey, 49; Kathryn, 39; and their daughters, Stella, 9, and Ruby, 4 in Richmond.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)