COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina
Gov. Henry McMaster has signed legislation requiring death row inmates to choose between the electric chair
and a newly formed firing squad
for the time being, in the hope that the state can resume executions after an involuntary 10-year pause.
South Carolina had been one of the most prolific states in terms of executions, but a lack of lethal injection
drugs forced a halt to the practice.
According to the state Legislature's website, McMaster signed the bill without ceremony or fanfare on Friday, making it the first bill the governor
decided to deal
with after nearly 50 arrived on his desk on Thursday.
Last week, state legislators gave their final approval to the bill, which keeps lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs, but requires prison officials to use the electric chair or firing squad if it does not.
Prosecutors said three inmates have exhausted all of their normal appeals but cannot be killed because, under the previous law, inmates who do not choose the state's 109-year-old electric chair are automatically scheduled to die by lethal injection, a method that cannot be carried out.
The electric chair is ready for use, and prison officials have been conducting preliminary research into how firing squads carry out executions in other states, but they are unsure how long it will take to have one in place in South Carolina. According to the Death Penalty
Informer, the other three states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi
, and Utah
Since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1977, three inmates have been killed by firing squad, while nineteen have died in the electric chair this century, and South Carolina is one of eight states that can still electrocute inmates, according to the center.
Lawyers for the men facing imminent death are considering suing the state over the new law, claiming that the state is regressing.
“These are execution methods that were previously replaced by lethal injection, which is considered more humane, and it makes South Carolina the only state going back to the less humane execution methods,” said Lindsey Vann of Justice 360, a nonprofit that represents many of South Carolina’s death row inmates.
From 1996 to 2009, South Carolina executed about three inmates per year on average, but a lull in the number of death row inmates reaching the end of their appeals coincided with pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell states the drugs needed to sedate inmates, relax their muscles, and stop their hearts a few years later.
South Carolina's last execution occurred in May 2010, and the state's supply of lethal injection drugs ran out in 2013.
The bill's supporters argue that the death penalty is still legal in South Carolina and that the state owes it to the victims' families to find a way to carry it out.
proposed several changes to the bill that were not approved, including livestreaming executions on the internet and requiring lawmakers to attend executions.
“We have to be willing to look at the faces of the people
we are voting
to kill today,” said Hopkins Democrat Rep. Jermaine Johnson.
Opponents also brought up the case of 14-year-old George Stinney, who was sentenced to death by electric chair in South Carolina after a one-day trial
in the deaths of two white girls in 1944, making him the youngest person executed in the United States in the twentieth century. The Black teen's conviction was overturned in 2014 by a judge.
voted against the bill, with the majority stating that it did not make moral sense to approve sending people to their deaths when, three months earlier, many of the same lawmakers approved a bill outlawing almost all abortions, citing the value of all life.
“If you're okay with the electric chair, you might as well be okay with burning at the stake,” Townville Republican Rep. Jonathon Hill said.
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