Oklahoma Town Insists It Owns 'Old Sparky'

But state won't give back electric chair, in case it needs to use it
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2014 5:25 PM CDT
Oklahoma Town Insists It Owns 'Old Sparky'
This is Ohio's version of 'Old Sparky.' Oklahoma's old chair is in the midst of a custody dispute.   (AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, Fred Squillante)

It is one of the craziest custody disputes you could imagine. A city in Oklahoma wants the state to give it back "Old Sparky," an electric chair last used about 50 years ago. McAlester officials want to put it on display as a piece of history. But the state says it's keeping Old Sparky in storage, just in case the relic needs to be fired up again. "That would be possible," a state DOC spokesperson tells the McAlester News-Capital. Old Sparky had its heyday from 1915 to 1966, when it was used to execute 82 inmates at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. It now sits mothballed in a state facility, as the city and the DOC bicker over who owns it.

The newspaper has a letter from the DOC to the city in 2010 in which it explains why the state needed to keep the chair. “In the event our lethal injection protocol is ruled unconstitutional, the electric chair must be used by the state as the back-up method of execution." That might have seemed far-fetched at the time, but the state's lethal injection policies are now, in fact, under review after the botched execution of an inmate last month. Tennessee, meanwhile, just brought back its electric chair. All that is understood, says McAlester's mayor, but ... Old Sparky? “That chair has not been used since 1966,” Steve Harrison tells the Guardian. “My assumption would be if it ever got to the point the electric chair was needed again they would start with a new one." (Click to read about how lawmakers elsewhere prefer the return of the firing squad.)

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