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High-Tech Death Chamber

Anticipating a surge of capital-offense cases under tough new federal anti-crime laws, the U.S. Justice Department recently completed work on the first-ever official federal death chamber. The $475,000, state-of-the-art facility at a high-security prison in Terre Haute, Ind., features a one-way window, a video earn-era and a motorized deathbed where capital convicts will receive lethal injections of potassium chloride. Still under construction: a new 50-cell building intended to serve as a federal death row.

But the new facility may not get much use. Justice officials were dismayed when they recently discovered language in last year's crime bill that they had previously overlooked. It requires that federal convicts be executed by the method prescribed by the state in which the crime was committed. Many states use the electric chair or the gas chamber, not lethal injection; four permit hanging, and two -- Idaho and Utah -- allow firing squads. Justice attorneys are scrambling to persuade Congress to change the law. But criminal-defense lawyers vow to fight back. They argue that shipping all federal death-row inmates to Terre Haute will make it difficult for out-of-state lawyers to confer with their clients for appeals. Protests Leslie Hagin of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers: "It's unconscionable." End of the road? U.S. death chamber

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