Colombia, South Carolina – The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked scheduled executions of two inmates by electrocution, saying they cannot be put to death until they really have a choice of a squad option. execution provided for in the new revised state law on capital punishment.
The High Court has halted this month’s scheduled executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, writing that prison officers need to form a firing squad so inmates can truly choose between that or the electric chair. The state’s plans, the court wrote in a unanimous order, are suspended “because of the statutory right of detainees to choose the mode of their execution.”
The executions were scheduled for less than a month after the passage of a new law requiring convicts to choose between electrocution or firing squad if lethal injection drugs were 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 have previously said they still cannot get hold of lethal injection drugs and have yet to form a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old electric chair as the only option.
“The department is moving forward with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad,” Chrysti Shain, spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Corrections said Wednesday. “We are looking to other states for guidance throughout this process. We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions.”
State prison officials have not indicated when a firing squad will be operational.
Lawyers for the two have argued in legal files that death from electrocution is cruel and unusual, saying the new law pushes the state toward less humane methods of execution. They also said men have the right to die by lethal injection – the method they both chose – and that the state has not exhausted all methods of obtaining lethal injection drugs.
State attorneys argued that prison authorities were only enforcing the law and that the United States Supreme Court had never ruled electrocution unconstitutional.
State prison officials had planned on Friday to electrocute Sigmon, a 63-year-old inmate who spent nearly two decades on death row after being convicted in 2002 of killing the parents of his ex. girlfriend with a baseball bat. The state Supreme Court also scheduled the June 25 execution of Owens, a 43-year-old man who has been on death row since 1999 for the murder of a convenience store clerk.
Sigmon and Owens have both run out of traditional appeals in recent months, leaving the state’s Supreme Court to fix and then suspend their executions earlier this year after the prison agency said it still had no lethal injection drugs – and before the new law was passed.
South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011, and its deadly injection drug consignment expired two years later. There are 37 men on state death row.
Counsel for the two detainees did not comment on Wednesday’s order.
Earlier Wednesday, opponents of the death penalty called on the state to completely end its death penalty law, with a group of religious leaders, academics, organizers and others delivering a letter to the governor Henry McMaster and the State General Assembly.
Abraham Bonowitz, director of the nationwide Death Penalty Action group and participant in the event, said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was grateful the execution plans had been blocked. But he felt that a bigger change was still needed.
“It’s always good news when executions are suspended, but if the conversation is only about how we kill our prisoners, rather than whether the state should have this power, something is seriously wrong,” a- he declared. “All of this is unnecessary and a costly waste of taxpayer dollars that could better meet the needs of all victims of violent crime.
At Wednesday’s rally, attendees noted that the day marks the anniversary of the electrocution of 14-year-old George Stinney, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. Stinney was 14 when he was sent to South Carolina’s electric chair after a one-day trial in 1944 in connection with the murder of two white girls.
A judge overturned the black teenager’s conviction in 2014.