A death row inmate set for execution next week for the rape and murder of a young mother has chosen to die in the electric chair, the Virginia Department of Corrections said Wednesday.

Barring intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, Brandon Hedrick, 27, would be the first person in the United States to die by electrocution in more than two years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The federal government and most states that allow capital punishment use lethal injection because it is considered more humane than electrocution or other methods.

A 2005 study raised serious questions about whether a painkiller used in the executions can wear off before the prisoner dies. The U.S. Supreme Court last month also made it easier for death row inmates to contest lethal injections by allowing them to make special federal court claims that it is cruel and unusual punishment.

Inmates on Virginia's death row have the option of choosing to die by injection or electrocution. Earl Bramblett, convicted of murdering a Roanoke couple and their two young daughters, was the last Virginian to die in the electric chair, in 2003.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, five other states allow condemned inmates to choose between injection and a secondary method, and death-row inmates in four states can do so if their crimes or sentences occurred before certain dates.

Hedrick is to be electrocuted July 20 for the 1997 slaying of Lisa Crider, 23, in Appomattox County. He was sentenced in 1998 after being convicted of abducting, raping and shooting Crider in the face with a shotgun on a remote bank of the James River. A co-defendant, Trevor Jones, was sentenced to life in prison.

Hedrick's attorneys did not immediately return calls Wednesday seeking comment on his request for the electric chair.

His attorneys have been seeking a hearing to determine if Hedrick is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutional, but left it up to the states to determine when someone was mentally retarded. In Virginia, those who score 70 or below on an IQ test before they turn 18 are generally considered retarded.

A clinical psychologist testified at Hedrick's sentencing that Hedrick had an IQ of 76. But Hedrick's attorneys argue his IQ may have been below 70.

Crider's mother, Dale Alexander, 55, of Altavista, expressed surprise at Hedrick's decision.

"Good lord," she said with a gasp upon hearing the news. "I have to sit down."

Despite Hedrick's unusual choice, Alexander believes he deserves to be punished for murdering her only daughter, whom she called an "inspiration."

"We appreciate justice being done," Alexander said. "I think he should get what he wants least."