COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A South Carolina woman whose mother was murdered by a man who sits on death row waits to see if lawmakers will change the law to end a 10-year halt to executions.
The Palmetto State has not carried out an execution since 2011.
The reason is the default method of execution, lethal injection, is not currently possible because of a shortage of the drugs required to carry out the death penalty.
The state may be one step closer to changing that, however, now that the South Carolina Senate passed a bill Wednesday would change the default method of execution from lethal injection to the electric chair. Such a chance could be a relief for people like Samantha Leitner, whose mother, 47-year-old Urai Jackson, was killed in her Lexington County home on May 29, 1994, waiting for answers.
Gary Dubose Terry was sentenced to death in Jackson’s murder and has been on the state’s death row since 1997.
“No one wants to think they are capable of taking another’s life,” Leitner said. “I don’t like thinking that I’m responsible for taking Gary’s life, but I know in a way I am. What he did to my mother was incredibly heinous. And he deserves the punishment he is getting he shouldn’t be able to sit there and live while my mother is dead. He made the decision to take her life. He didn’t give her a choice. He shouldn’t be given a choice at what his punishment is.”
Jackson was killed days before Leitner’s 25th birthday, she says.
“He gloated during a hearing that we had in Dorchester County during one of his Supreme Court appeals, about how wonderful his grandchildren are, when he had either six or seven or something like that, and how beautiful they were and he enjoyed getting letters and things from them in prison and everything,” Leitner said. “And I just really just wanted to scream at that point because it was like, ‘Wow, my mother never even got to see me get married. I didn’t have a mother to be the mother of the bride. She never got to see me have my beautiful daughter and she doesn’t get to see her great granddaughter. So he gets to enjoy all those things at taxpayers’ expense, while you know we suffer with the knowledge of knowing that we’ve lost her and we’ll never get her back.”
Terry is one of 37 inmates on the state’s death row. Two inmates’ executions have been stayed while the state comes up with a way to carry out the executions, leaving families of victims in limbo.
“I wouldn’t wish that on anybody...the pain, the delays in the in the system that we have in place now,” Leitner says.
The South Carolina Senate Wednesday passed a bill that would make the electric chair the state’s default method of execution. The Senate bill also adds the option of a firing squad.
State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, proposed the amendment to add the firing squad as a possible means of execution. Harpootlian has spent years as a prosecutor and said he has represented victims of people on death row and death row inmates. He believes the death penalty should be used sparingly and only in very specific and egregious circumstances, but says electrocution is the equivalent of burning a person to death.
“My concern is we are not them; we are not cruel, we are not sadistic, the idea is the remove these people from society, living people, you should do that as humanely as possible,” he said. “I understand victims who want vengeance. That’s not our job as a society. Our job as a society is to apply the death penalty in a humane way…let’s not go down to their level,” he added.
The State House, which has been considering a similar bill without the firing squad option, will now have the chance to consider the Senate version.
“I just want to see justice. I want to close this chapter. You know, I want to put my mother’s memory to rest. I don’t want to sit there and think that, ‘Gosh, you know, I spent all these years, I spent more than half of my entire life fighting for her to have a voice out there that said, “Hey, you know, I matter. I count, I was someone I had a family.”’ And the way she went out is not the way she wants to be remembered.”
Inmates who do not select the electric chair as their choice of execution would automatically be executed by lethal injection.
The state’s usual protocol to carry out an execution by lethal injection calls for three drugs: the sedative pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. But the corrections agency has said it hasn’t had the drugs in stock since 2013, when its last supplies expired.
Manufacturers of those drugs do not want to sell them to the state without a shield law that would prevent their company names from being publicly associated with executions. Despite calls on lawmakers from Gov. Henry McMaster and South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling, the state still has no such shield law in place.
But until the law changes, lethal injection remains the state’s default method of execution.