The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday barred the scheduled executions of two inmates through electrocution. It indicated they cannot be put to death until they have the option of a firing squad as laid out in South Carolina's newly revised capital punishment law. US states are scrambling to search for alternatives to lethal injections amid a drug shortage.
The state had planned to execute Brad Sigmon, who was sentenced to two murders in 2002, using the electric chair on Friday. If it had pushed through, it would have been the first use of capital punishment in South Carolina in a decade. Another execution would have followed. Freddie Owen's electric chair execution for murder during an armed burglary was slated for June 25.
Choosing Between Electrocution or Firing Squad
The executions were scheduled less than a month following the passage of a new law, which says that the convicted should decide between electrocution or firing squad if lethal injection drugs were not available. The statute is to restart executions following an involuntary 10-year pause due to the failure to procure the drugs needed for execution, reported ABC News.
Both Sigmon and Owen chose lethal injection. However, prison officials were unable to get a hold of lethal injection drugs. They also have not yet put together a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old electric chair as the only option. Chrysti Shain, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, stated on Wednesday, "The department is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad reported AP. In the same interview, Shain also indicated that they will let the court know when a firing squad can be presented as an option for executions.
Attorneys for the two men had contended that death by electrocution is unusual and cunning. They also stated that convicts have the right to die by lethal injection. They also added that the state has not yet exhausted all methods to attain lethal injection drugs, reported Aljareeza.
The lawyers remarked the new law moves South Carolina toward less humane execution methods.
Another condemned inmate named Richard Moore was slated to be put to death in December last year. However, the Supreme Court of the state also delayed his execution due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. Moore has petitioned South Carolina's high court to vacate his death sentence. He is waiting for their response.
State lawyers have maintained that jail officials are merely acting by the law. They added the United States Supreme Court has never found electrocution to be unconstitutional.
Owens and Sigmon have run out of traditional appeals in the past few months. This leaves the state Supreme Court as their only option to decide on their executions following the admission of the corrections agency that it still did not have lethal injection drugs even after the passage of the new law.