South Carolina adds firing squad to execution method list


South Carolina senators added a firing squad to the electric chair Tuesday as alternatives if the state cannot execute convicted inmates by lethal injection.

The Senate then passed the bill in a key vote of 32-11, with several Democrats joining Republicans in the proposal that would allow South Carolina to restart executions after nearly 10 years.

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The state cannot execute anyone now because its supply of lethal injection drugs has expired and it has not been able to buy more. Currently, prisoners can choose between the electric chair and the lethal injection and, since drugs are not available, they choose the method that cannot be done.

The Senate bill maintains lethal injection if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair if not. A prisoner can choose a firing squad if he prefers.

The House is considering a similar bill without the firing squad option, but could also consider the Senate version after a procedural vote by senators finalizes the bill later this week.

South Carolina still uses the electric chair that was first turned on in 1912 after taking on the death penalty from the counties, which generally used the gallows.

It is just one of the nine states that an electric chair maintains. It would become the fourth state to allow a firing squad with Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster asked lawmakers to give him some way to restart executions, as some inmates have exhausted their appeals, but their death sentences cannot be carried out.

A Republican and a Democrat, both former prosecutors, proposed adding the firing squad.

The former Democratic prosecutor said it is evident in a Republican-dominated state like South Carolina, where the Republican Party won additional seats in November that the death penalty cannot be abolished as Virginia did last month.

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“The death penalty is going to remain the law here for a while. If it’s going to stay, it should be humane,” said State Senator Dick Harpootlian, who said hanging is brutal and often leads to beheading and electrocution. the condemned “are burned to death.”

Since the last execution took place in May 2011, South Carolina’s death row has dropped from about 60 inmates to 37 as of now due to natural deaths and inmates who won appeals and were sentenced to life in prison. without parole. Prosecutors have sent just three new inmates to death row in the past decade.

Former Republican prosecutor Sen. Greg Hembree said Tuesday was not the time to debate whether the death penalty was right or wrong.

But several Democrats said the moral aspect of killing someone could not be removed from discussions of method.

They also asked senators how they could justify having a debate on executing people this week when they passed a bill last month banning most abortions in South Carolina, which is now tied up in court.

Democratic Senator Kevin Johnson named George Stinney, the youngest person to be executed in the United States in the 20th century. He was 14 when he was sent to the South Carolina electric chair after a one-day trial in 1944 for killing two white girls. A judge threw out the black teenager’s conviction in 2014. Newspaper stories reported that witnesses said the straps to keep him in the electric chair did not fit his tiny body.

Johnson passes a Stinney memorial every time he comes to Columbia from Manning.

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“Do you think it was wrong to abort a baby? Think how worst it is to kill a person who, after all, is innocent,” Johnson said.

Only one senator in the chamber has seen an execution. Hembree, a co-sponsor of the firing squad proposal, tried nearly a dozen death penalty cases as a prosecutor and saw one of the men he sentenced to death by lethal injection die.

“There is nothing pleasant in any of those ways. They are scary, they are sad and tragic in some way,” Hembree said. “Justice is not always a happy place. But it is justice.”

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