Judge Rules Against 2 Execution Methods in SC

Electric chair, firing squad are unconstitutonal, she says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 8, 2022 4:11 AM CDT
Judge: SC's Electric Chair, Firing Squad Unconstitutional
This photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows the state's death chamber in Columbia, SC, including the electric chair, right, and a firing squad chair, left.   (South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP, File)

A South Carolina judge ruled this week that the state's newly created execution firing squad, as well as its use of the electric chair, are unconstitutional, siding with four death row inmates in a decision sure to be swiftly appealed as the state struggles to implement its new execution protocols. "In 2021, South Carolina turned back the clock and became the only state in the country in which a person may be forced into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die," Judge Jocelyn Newman wrote in a case brought by the inmates against the state. "In doing so, the General Assembly ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency.”

Last month, Newman heard arguments from lawyers for four men on the state's death row, who said that the prisoners would feel terrible pain whether their bodies were "cooking" by electricity or their hearts stopped by a marksman’s bullet—assuming they are on target. Attorneys for the state countered with their own experts who said death by the yet-to-be-used firing squad or the rarely used electric chair would be instantaneous and the condemned would not feel any pain, the AP reports. Brian Symmes, a spokesman for Gov. Henry McMaster, said the Republican plans to appeal Newman's ruling.

From 1995 to 2011—when the state’s last execution was performed—South Carolina carried out the death penalty with lethal injections on 36 prisoners. But, as the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013, an involuntary pause in executions resulted from pharmaceutical companies' refusal to sell the state more. Condemned inmates technically had the choice between injection and electrocution, meaning that opting for the former would in essence leave the state unable to carry out the sentence. A measure signed into law by McMaster last year made South Carolina the fourth state in the country to allow use of a firing squad, and made the state's electric chair—built in 1912—the default method for executions, thereby giving prisoners a new choice. (Read more South Carolina stories.)

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