COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/AP) - The South Carolina Senate has passed a bill that would change the state’s default method of execution and add a third option.
Senators added a firing squad as an alternative to the electric chair if the state is unable to execute condemned inmates through lethal injection.
The Senate then approved the bill Tuesday on a key 32-11 vote with several Democrats joining Republicans in the proposal which would allow South Carolina to restart executions after nearly 10 years. Wednesday’s final vote would send the bill to the South Carolina House.
The state can’t put anyone to death now because its supply of lethal injection drugs expired and it hasn’t been able to buy more. The state’s usual injection protocol 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.
During his State of the State Address in January, Gov. Henry McMaster called on the General Assembly to pass a shield law that would protect the names of companies that manufacture the drugs necessary from lethal injection to be made public. Without such a law, those companies have not been willing to sell their products to the state to use in executions.
“We have no means to carry out a death sentence in South Carolina, and the murderers know it,” he said in his Jan. 13 speech before the state legislature. “Fourteen states have enacted such a shield law. [South Carolina Department of Corrections] Director Bryan Stirling and I have been asking the General Assembly to fix this for years. Legislation was almost approved on the final day last year. I ask the General Assembly: fix this. Give these grieving families and loved ones the justice and closure they are owed by law.”
The execution of Richard Bernard Moore, convicted in the 1999 killing of a convenience store clerk in Spartanburg County, had been scheduled for November. But the execution was delayed because the state has run out of drugs necessary to carry out an execution and has not been able to find a drug maker willing to sell the state the drugs for that purpose.
The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that according to state law, Moore would have to be executed by lethal injection by default because he did not choose between that and electrocution by a deadline.
Moore is one of 37 people, all men, currently on South Carolina’s death row. Five of them involved cases from Lowcountry counties.
Some prosecutors have sought the death penalty less often in recent years, citing the state’s inability to carry out executions.
South Carolina’s last execution was in 2011.
Currently, eight other states can use electric chairs and Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi allow firing squads.
The House has considered a similar bill without the firing squad option, but can now consider the Senate version.