Monday, August 20, 2001

Electric chair may end up in museum

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Ohio's electric chair could spend its final days on display at a museum.

        State prisons chief Reginald Wilkinson believes the chair is susceptible to problems and wants to eliminate it. Legislation has been introduced that would abolish the chair — something seven other states have done — and rely exclusively on lethal injection.

        That has created a debate as what to what should happen with “Old Sparky.”

        The next inmate scheduled to be executed, John Byrd Jr., insists on being electrocuted if his appeals fail. The Cincinnati man is scheduled to be put to death Sept. 12 for killing convenience-store clerk Monte Tewksbury on April 17, 1983. He claims he is innocent.

        Lethal injection has been an option since 1993, and the last two executions were by lethal injection.

Not for sale, officials say

               Mr. Wilkinson told The Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday that the 104-year-old chair, used to execute 315 people, should not be sold or displayed inappropriately. sk,0

        “We're not going to sell it, trivialize it, put it on Ripley's Believe It or Not, or sell it on eBay,” he said.

        “Regardless of what people think, it's part of corrections history.”

        Mr. Wilkinson is a former president of the American Correctional Association and is leading an effort to establish a national museum, a spot he believes would be a good place for the chair.

        Another possibility is that the chair — built of wood, metal and leather by inmate Charles Justice, who later was executed in it — could end up with the Ohio Historical Society.

        But that could be controversial. In 1972, the state considered giving the chair to the society and buying a new one.

        Some historians argued that the chair “is really a piece of the state's history, a significant artifact not only of the period in which we live but also as the ultimate symbol of the state's power,” said Amos Loveday, the state's historic preservation officer.

        Others considered it “a ghoulish thing ... that served no useful purpose to preserve as an object.”

        The argument became moot when the state moved the chair to the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville from the old Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. Senate President Richard Finan said the historical society would be the appropriate place for the chair.

        “But if nobody wanted it in Ohio, there's probably somebody out there that would pay money for that electric chair,” the Cincinnati Republican said.

Buyers are available

               The Museum of Death, an offbeat Hollywood museum with a replica electric chair on display, would like to own the real thing.

        “I think there's a market for it,” said James Dean Healy, owner of the California museum and a former resident of suburban Gahanna. “There's people that would want it, but the price depends on what the market will bear. It definitely has a sense of history.”

        But one death-penalty opponent says the chair ought not be sold or displayed at a museum, unless the death penalty is abolished.

        “It's too much of a painful experience to see so much human suffering,” said Jana Schroder, of Ohioans to Stop Executions.


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