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Executions by firing squad get green light in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — South Carolina gave the go-ahead to executions by firing squad, a method codified in state law last year after a decade-long hiatus from carrying out sentences to death due to the state’s inability to procure lethal injection drugs.

The state Department of Corrections said Friday that renovations have been completed on Columbia’s death chamber and that the agency has notified Attorney General Alan Wilson that it is able to carry out an execution by firing squad. ‘execution.

Lawmakers have moved to tweak state law to circumvent the lethal injection drug situation. Legislation that took effect in May made the electric chair the state’s primary means of execution while giving inmates the option of choosing death by firing squad or lethal injection, if those methods are available.

READ MORE: Arizona renovates its gas chamber to resume executions

During South Carolina’s lengthy debate, Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian — a prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney — introduced the option of firing squad. He argued that it was the “least painful” method of execution available.

“The death penalty is going to be the law here for a while,” Harpootlian said. “If we want to have it, it has to be human.”

Officials say the death chamber now also includes a metal chair, with ties, in the corner of the room that inmates will sit in if they choose to be executed by firing squad. This chair faces a wall with a rectangular opening, 15 feet away, through which the three shooters will fire their weapons.

State officials also created protocols for carrying out executions. The three shooters, all volunteers who are corrections employees, will have rifles loaded with live ammunition, their guns pointed at the inmate’s heart.

A hood will be placed over the inmate’s head, who will be given the opportunity to make a final statement.

According to officials, corrections spent $53,600 on the renovations.

South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and one of four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

In June, the South Carolina Supreme Court blocked the planned executions of two inmates by electrocution, ruling that they cannot be put to death until they have a real choice of a firing squad option. enforcement set forth in recently revised state law.

The high court halted planned executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, writing that those responsible must assemble a firing squad so inmates can really choose between that or the electric chair. The state’s plans, the court wrote in a unanimous order, were suspended “due to the legal right of inmates to choose the mode of their execution.”

Now that a firing squad has been formed, the court will have to issue a new order for any execution to be carried out.

READ MORE: Rule could allow firing squads, gas for federal executions

The executions were scheduled less than a month after the new law was passed. Prison officials had previously said they still could not obtain lethal injection drugs and had yet to assemble a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old the electric chair as the only option.

Lawyers for both men have argued in legal papers that death by electrocution is cruel and unusual, saying the new law steers the state toward less humane methods of execution. They also said the men had a right to die by lethal injection — the method they both chose — and that the state had not exhausted all methods of procuring lethal injection drugs.

State attorneys argued that prison officials were simply enforcing the law and that the U.S. Supreme Court never found electrocution to be unconstitutional.

The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011 and his batch of lethal injection drugs expired two years later. There are 37 men on state death row.


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