South Carolina has given the greenlight to firing-squad executions, a method codified into state law last year after a decade-long pause in carrying out death sentences because of the state´s inability to procure lethal injection drugs.
The state Corrections Department said Friday that renovations have been completed on the death chamber in Columbia and that the agency had notified Attorney General Alan Wilson that it was able to carry out a firing-squad execution.
The state had blocked executions last May after its new capital punishment law allowed death row inmates to choose death by electrocutions, lethal injection or firing squad, with the state not having the proper procedures in place for the later two options.
It allowed death row inmates Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, both convicted murderers, to delay their executions for a lack of options, but if the state Supreme Court approves the new firing squad policies, they could be the first to be executed by the method in 12 years.
South Carolina is ready to use firing squads to carry out executions after the state put a moratorium on the process when it could only provide deaths by the electric chair last year
Death row inmates Brad Sigmon (left) and Freddie Owens, both convicted murderers, had asked for death by lethal injection last year and said death by the electric chair was ‘cruel and unusual.’ The men will now have a choice to die by a firing squad
The state spent $53,600 to upgrade its facilities to allow for death by firing squad at the Capital Punishment Facility at Broad River Correctional Institution, in Columbia
SOUTH CAROLINA’S DEATH BY FIRING SQUAD PROTOCOL
Three firing squad members will be behind the wall, with rifles facing the inmate through the opening.
The rifles and open portal will not be visible from the witness room. All three rifles will be loaded with live ammunition.
The witnesses will see the right-side profile of the inmate. The inmate will not face the witness room directly. The electric chair faces the witnesses directly.
The inmate will wear a prison-issued uniform and be escorted into the chamber.
The inmate will be given the opportunity to make a last statement.
The inmate will be strapped into the chair, and a hood will be placed over his head. A small aim point will be placed over his heart by a member of the execution team.
After the warden reads the execution order, the team will fire.
After the shots, a doctor will examine the inmate. After the inmate is declared dead, the curtain will be drawn and witnesses escorted out.
According to officials, the death chamber now also includes a metal chair, with restraints, in the corner of the room in which inmates will sit if they choose execution by firing squad. That chair faces a wall with a rectangular opening, 15 feet away, through which the three shooters will fire their weapons.
State officials also have created protocols for carrying out the executions. The three shooters, all volunteers who are employees of the Corrections Department, will have rifles loaded with live ammunition, with their weapons trained on the inmate’s heart.
A hood will be placed over the head of the inmate, who will be given the opportunity to make a last statement.
According to officials, Corrections spent $53,600 on the renovations.
South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and one of four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
Lawmakers set about tweaking state law to get around the lethal injection drug situation as countries who supplied the chemicals for the lethal cocktail condemned their use for executions in the U.S.
During South Carolina´s lengthy debate, Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian – a prosecutor-turned-criminal defense lawyer – introduced the firing squad option.
He argued that it presented ‘the least painful’ execution method available.
‘The death penalty is going to stay the law here for a while,’ Harpootlian said. ‘If we’re going to have it, it ought to be humane.’
A similar argument was brought up for two Oklahoma death row inmates, Donald Grant and Gilbert Postelle, who agreed to choose death by firing squad over the electric chair in February.
‘While it may be gruesome to look at, we all agree it will be quicker,’ Jim Stronski, the inmate’s attorney said during a court hearing last month.
Dr. James Williams, an emergency medicine specialist from Texas, told the Oklahoma court that death from at least ‘four high-powered rifles’ would deliver a blow to the heat so quickly that ‘an inmate wouldn’t feel pain,’ NPR reported.
Both Grant and Postelle’s pleas were rejected by a U.S. District Judge.
Last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Missouri death row inmate Ernest Johnson who had asked the state to allow him to choose death by firing squad because lethal injections would cause him excruciating pain, The New York Times reported.
Oklahoma death row inmates Donald Grant (left) and Gilbert Postelle had asked for death by firing squad last month. Their plea was rejected by a U.S. District Judge.
The Supreme Court rejected Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur’s’ request to die by firing squad over a lethal injection in 2017. He was executed by lethal injection later that year
In 2017, The high court rejected Alabama death row inmate Tommy Arthur’s’ request to die by firing squad over a lethal injection due to a series of botched executions using the later method.
Arthur, who had killed his girlfriend’s husband in 1982, was executed later that year by lethal injection.
South Carolina, Utah and Oklahoma are the only states that allow death by firing squad.
South Carolina’s plans to execute Sigmon and Owens, the court wrote in an unanimous order, were on hold ‘due to the statutory right of inmates to elect the manner of their execution.’
Prisons officials had previously said they still couldn’t obtain lethal injection drugs and have yet to put together a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old electric chair as the only option.
Now that a firing squad has been formed, the court will need to issue a new order for any execution to be carried out.
The executions were scheduled less than a month after the passage of the new law.
Sigmon was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of David and Gladys Larke in 2001.
Owens was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murders of Irene Graves in 1997 and for killing fellow inmate Christopher Lee.
Attorneys for the two men argued in legal filings that death by electrocution is cruel and unusual, saying the new law moves the state toward less humane execution methods.
They have also said the men have the right to die by lethal injection – the method both of them chose – and that the state hasn’t exhausted all methods to procure lethal injection drugs.
Representatives for Sigmon and Owens did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
Lawyers for the state have maintained that prisons officials are simply carrying out the law, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has never found electrocution to be unconstitutional.
The last person to be sentenced to death by firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner, of Utah, in 2010. Gardner had said he preferred to die by the method
South Carolina´s last execution took place in 2011, and its batch of lethal injection drugs expired two years later. There are 37 men on the state´s death row.
Utah is the only state in the past 40 years to carry out death by firing squad, with the most recent sentence carried out in 2010 against Ronnie Lee Gardner, who killed a bartender and then shot a lawyer to death and wounded a bailiff during a 1985 courthouse escape.
Utah adopted lethal injection as the default execution method in 2004, but Gardner was still allowed to choose the controversial firing squad option because he was sentenced before the law changed.
He told his lawyer he did it because he preferred it – not because he wanted the controversy surrounding the execution to draw attention to his case.