South Carolina adds firing squad to execution methods to address lethal injection shortage

Executions in South Carolina can now be carried out by firing squad after senators moved to address a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

South Carolina‘s state senate approved the move 32-11 on Tuesday, with a number of Democrats joining their Republican colleagues in the vote.

It means that executions in the state can now be restarted after an almost 10-year delay, with those on death row having been able to exploit a grim courtesy that allows them to choose how they would die.

Inmates have been allowed to choose between the electric chair and lethal injection – and prisoners have opted for the latter knowing that it is unavailable, thus delaying their execution.

The vote to approve the use of firing squads is effectively a workaround for the supply problems and the bureaucracy surrounding executions.

Senator Dick Harpootlian conceded the death penalty was unlikely to be outlawed in the state. Pic: AP
Image:Senator Dick Harpootlian conceded the death penalty was unlikely to be outlawed in the state. Pic: AP

The bill passed still allows prison officials to use the lethal injection when it is available, but when it is not, prisoners will now be given the choice between electric chair or firing squad.

South Carolina has been using the electric chair since 1912, and is one of just nine states in the US that still uses the method to execute prisoners.

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It is only the fourth state to bring in a firing squad as part of its executions, behind Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

South Carolina’s governor, Republican Henry McMaster, had asked state politicians to allow him to restart executions after a number of inmates exhausted their appeals but remained on death row due to the lack of lethal injections.

The firing squad option was added into the bill with cross-party consensus, with Democrat senator Dick Harpootlian admitting: “The death penalty is going to stay the law here for a while. If it is going to remain, it ought to be humane.”

However, Democrats did question the justification for Republicans not wanting to discuss the ethics of the death penalty, when last week they passed a law that essentially made abortion illegal in the state.

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The last execution in South Carolina took place in May 2011 and since then, numbers on death row have dropped from around 60 to 37 inmates as a result of successful appeals or natural deaths.

Only three new inmates have been sentenced to death in South Carolina in the last decade.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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