New law forces SC death row inmates to choose between electric chair or firing squad

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has enacted a bill that requires death row inmates for now to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad in the hope that the state can resume executions after a 10-year hiatus.

South Carolina had been one of the most prolific states of its size for killing inmates. But the lack of deadly injection drugs put an end to the executions.

McMaster signed the bill on Friday without ceremony or fanfare, according to the state legislature’s website. This is the first bill the governor decided to deal with after nearly 50 of them arrived at his office on Thursday.

“The families and loved ones of the victims have the right to closure and justice by law. Now we can deliver it, ”said McMaster on Twitter Monday.

Last week, state lawmakers gave their final approval to the bill, which retains lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or the firing squad if not. case.

Prosecutors said three inmates had exhausted all their normal calls, but could not be killed because, according to previous law, inmates who did not automatically choose the 109-year-old state’s electric chair would automatically die by lethal injection. . They all chose the method which cannot be implemented.

The date on which executions can begin is pending. The electric chair is ready for use. Prison officials have done some preliminary research into how firing squads carry out executions in other states, but aren’t sure how long it will take to put one in place in South Carolina. The other three states that allow firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Three inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Nineteen inmates have died in the electric chair this century, and North Carolina South is one of eight states that can still electrocute inmates, according to the center.

Lawyers for the men with potentially imminent death dates are considering suing the new law, saying the state is backing down.

“These are methods of execution that were previously replaced by lethal injection, which is considered more humane, and this makes South Carolina the only state to revert to less humane methods of execution,” Lindsey said. Vann from Justice 360, a nonprofit organization that represents the men on South Carolina’s death row.

From 1996 to 2009, South Carolina executed nearly three inmates on average per year. But a lull in death row inmates reaching the end of their appeals coincided a few years later with drug companies refusing to sell states the drugs needed to calm inmates, relax their muscles and stop their hearts.

South Carolina’s last execution was in May 2010, and its deadly injection drug consignment expired in 2013.

Supporters of the bill said the death penalty remains legal in South Carolina and the state owes the families of the victims to find a way to carry out the punishment.

Democrats in the House suggested several changes to the bill that were not approved, including live internet executions and requiring lawmakers to witness the executions.

“We have to be prepared to look at the faces of the people we are voting on today to kill,” said Rep. Jermaine Johnson, a Democrat from Hopkins.

Opponents have brought up the case of 14-year-old George Stinney, who was sent to South Carolina in an electric chair in 1944 after a day-long trial in the deaths of two white girls. He was the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. A judge dismissed the black teen’s conviction in 2014.

Stinney’s case is a reminder that the death penalty in South Carolina has always been “and continues to be racist, arbitrary and error-prone”, said Frank Knaack, executive director of the American Civil Liberties branch. Union.

“Amid a nationwide toll around systemic racism, our governor ensured that the death penalty in South Carolina – a system rooted in racial terror and lynchings – was upheld,” Knaack said in a statement. .

Nineteen of the 37 inmates currently on state death row are blacks.

Seven Republicans in the House voted against the bill, with most saying it made no moral sense to approve sending people to their deaths, while three months ago many of these same legislators approved a bill banning almost all abortions, claiming that all life is sacred.

“If you’re cool with the electric chair, you might as well be cool to burn at the stake,” said Rep. Jonathon Hill, a Republican from Townville.

About Norman Griggs

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