South Carolina inmate tries to stop June 18 execution

The inmate who was slated to be the first to be put to death under South Carolina’s recently revised death penalty law has filed a last-minute request to suspend his execution in the electric chair, arguing that the state does not has not exhausted all methods of obtaining lethal injection drugs. .

Brad Sigmon’s attorneys on Thursday filed documents in federal court asking a judge to end his execution later this month.

Sigmon, sentenced to death since his conviction in 2002 for double murder, has officially chosen lethal injection as his method of execution. But the state says it has been unable to obtain the necessary drugs, and a new law signed last month by Gov. Henry McMaster would require inmates to choose either the electric chair or a squad of execution, in case lethal injection drugs are not available.

Citing other states that may have carried out lethal injection executions in recent years, Sigmon’s lawyers argue that South Carolina simply did not go to enough effort to obtain the drugs or prepare them on its own. , as some other states have done.

The execution of Sigmon by electrocution, his lawyers wrote, puts him “at substantial risk of excruciating pain, terror and certain bodily mutilation which contravenes ever-changing standards of decency, offends basic tenets of human dignity and violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel acts and unusual punishment.

Electrocution, they argued, “often goes horribly wrong”, writing that “an electrocuted person can suffer a slow and painful death from suffocation as their internal organs are slowly cooked”, or “their eyes can pop out, their body will probably blister, and the smell of his burnt flesh will permeate the room. “

Sigmon’s execution on June 18 would be the state’s first in a decade, officials say, an unintentional hiatus resulting from the inability to procure the drugs needed for the lethal injection. South Carolina inmates have had the option of electing electrocution for years – and some have – but injecting has been listed as the default method if the convict makes no other choice.

When McMaster enacted the new death penalty measure last month, Sigmon and another death row inmate Freddie Owens – both of whom exhausted their remedies – immediately sued, claiming they could not be electrocuted or shot. since they had been convicted under a previous law making lethal injection the default method.

This litigation is ongoing. This week, Owens’ execution was slated for June 26.

The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011, and its deadly injection drug consignment expired two years later. There are 37 inmates awaiting death in South Carolina, all male.

The new law, the lawyers for Sigmon wrote, “is the first to break with more than 100 years of US jurisdictions implementing more humane methods of execution, which have culminated with lethal injection as the dominant method in all cases. other death penalty jurisdictions in the United States. “

South Carolina is one of eight states that still electrocute inmates, and the state has declared the electric chair ready for use. Prison officials have researched how firing squads carry out executions elsewhere, but said they don’t know how long it would take to have one 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 electric chairs this century, according to the center.

During South Carolina’s lengthy debate over the new death penalty law, Democratic State Senator Dick Harpootlian – a prosecutor turned criminal defense lawyer – presented the firing squad option, arguing that It featured the “least painful” method of execution available and called electrocution “not much better” than hanging in terms of what could go wrong, according to Sigmon’s attorneys.

In that same debate, they wrote, State Senator Greg Hembree said it was “not for the government” to “torture anyone needlessly”, calling the lethal injection “more human than the electric chair “.

A hearing on Sigmon’s claim is scheduled for next week.

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