SC lawmakers advance bill to allow lethal injection executions to restart

The state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired 10 years ago, and drugmakers and pharmacies will not sell more if their identities could be revealed.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 8:17 PM EST

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina currently has more than two-dozen inmates on death row and no way to legally carry out their executions.

But a push at the State House could allow capital punishment to resume for the first time in over a decade.

South Carolina’s two currently available methods of execution, the firing squad and the electric chair, are on hold as the state Supreme Court determines if they are constitutional. Earlier this month, justices heard arguments in the case, brought on behalf of four current death-row inmates, but there is no deadline for them to deliver a ruling.

But even if the court strikes down both of those methods of execution, a bill advancing through the state Senate could restart South Carolina’s third method: lethal injection.

“It seems to me, looking through the eyes of the defendant, I would like to have that option. And the only way you’re going to get that option is to use a device like this, a statute like this, so we can get the drugs,” Sen. Greg Hembree, R – Horry, and the sponsor of S.120, said during a Senate subcommittee meeting Thursday.

South Carolina’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired 10 years ago, and the state said drugmakers and compounding pharmacies will not sell them more if their identities could be revealed.

The five-member Senate panel voted along party lines, with Republicans in favor, to advance Hembree’s bill, a “shield law.”

“This is not a guarantee that we will be able to obtain the drugs. This is just another tool that we will be able to use to obtain the drugs and go to the companies and say, ‘You will be protected from public disclosure,’” South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said.

Under it, the public would not be able to find out who is providing these drugs to South Carolina and how much the state is paying for it.

Opponents of the bill told senators that clouding of transparency is alarming, with even lawmakers kept in the dark.

“We want full disclosure, full transparency when it comes to every aspect of our government, especially when it comes to government killings on citizens,” Allie Menegakis, a criminal defense attorney and executive director of the nonprofit South Carolina for Criminal Justice Reform, said.

But Laura Hudson, executive director of the South Carolina Crime Victims’ Council, said victims will not have justice until executions resume.

“I am in favor of this bill, and I am sick and tired of all the gamesmanship of trying to keep us from carrying out justice for crime victims,” Hudson told senators.

Stirling, who oversees the state’s prison system, said some states with shield laws have been able to carry out lethal injections.

Others haven’t.

“It really is across the board what the success is, and frankly, I think it just comes down to, do you have a compounding pharmacy that’s willing to sell you the drugs?” Stirling said, adding he believes pharmaceutical manufacturers would not be willing to sell directly to states, even with a shield law in place. “I mean, this is a big deal. This is a personal decision for that pharmacy and the people.”

Stirling said corrections directors are tight-lipped among themselves about this as well.

“Directors aren’t just volunteering where they’re getting the drugs because it’s such a litigious process,” he said.

Gov. Henry McMaster has voiced his support for a shield law in the past, calling for the General Assembly to pass one in his State of the State address two years ago.

The shield law bill will next be considered by the full Senate Corrections and Penology Committee.