COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – A federal judge on Friday refused to stop the upcoming executions of two South Carolina prisoners who are expected to die later this month under the state’s recently revised death penalty law .
U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell has ruled to let the executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens continue after their lawyers argued in court that the state had not exhausted all methods of procuring drugs through lethal injection.
Their executions were slated for less than a month after the passage of a new law requiring convicts to choose between electrocution or firing squads if lethal injecting drugs are not available. The law aims to resume executions after an involuntary 10-year hiatus that the state attributes to an inability to procure the drugs.
Prison officials say they still can’t get hold of lethal injection drugs and have yet to form a firing squad, meaning Sigmon and Owens would die in the electric chair. State, 109 years old.
Lawyers for the two have argued that death from electrocution is cruel and unusual, saying the new law pushes the state toward less humane methods of execution.
In his Friday order, the judge wrote that the men had not clearly demonstrated that the electrocution violated the Eighth Amendment, citing more than a century of federal court precedents. Additionally, they failed to show that lethal injection death using a single dose of the drug pentobarbital “would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain,” Harwell wrote.
Harwell’s refusal marks a second blow against the inmates in their legal attempts to obtain a stay. A state judge evaluating a trial over the new death penalty law also refused to stop executions earlier this week. The prisoners are also asking the South Carolina Supreme Court for stays.
Lawyers for the state have argued that the US Supreme Court has never ruled electrocution unconstitutional. State prosecutors said the federal challenge duplicated similar claims made in a lawsuit in state court and that prisoners could not continue to repeatedly delay their executions through lawsuits.
Sigmon and Owens have both run out of traditional appeals in recent months, leaving the state Supreme Court to fix and then suspend their executions after the prison agency said it still had no injecting drugs. lethal.
The South Carolina Supreme Court reset Sigmon’s execution to June 18 after prison officials indicated the state’s electric chair was ready for use. The court predicted Owens’ death a week later, on June 25.
Sigmon, 63, was convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend’s parents with a baseball bat in Greenville County.
Owens, 43, was first sentenced to death in 1999 for the shooting murder two years earlier of a convenience store clerk in an armed robbery, also in Greenville County. He changed his legal name to Khalil Divine Black Sun Allah in 2015, according to court documents.
South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and four to allow a firing squad, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Prison officials have not given a timeline for when the firing squad will be operational, although they said they were studying how other states are handling their squads.
The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011, and its deadly injection drug consignment expired two years later. There are 37 prisoners awaiting death in South Carolina, all of them male.
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