South Carolina wants to restart executions of prisoners by firing squad, electric chair and lethal injection.
What is at stake are the death sentences of 33 inmates who are on South Carolina's death row. While there has been no formal moratorium, the state has not carried out an execution in nearly thirteen years after the drugs it used for lethal injection they won and companies will refuse to sell more to prison officials unless they could hide their identity from the public.
Lawyers for four death row inmates who have been left without appeals are now expected to argue before the South Carolina Supreme Court that the old state electric chair and the new firing squad are cruel punishments and unusual.
Lawyers for the inmates also plan to argue Tuesday that a 2023 law aimed at allowing lethal injections to be used again keeps too many details secret about the new medicine and the protocol applied to kill prisoners.
Lawyers for the inmates will argue that the old electric chair is cruel and unusual punishment. Photo: AP
South Carolina says all three methods fit within existing protocols. “Courts have never held that death has to be instant or painless“wrote Grayson Lambert, an attorney in Gov. Henry McMaster's office.
If Supreme Court justices allow executions to resume and any new appeal fails, South Carolina's execution chamber, unused since May 2011, suddenly it could be quite active.
Four inmates have filed lawsuits, but four others have been left without resources, although two of them will have a competency hearing before they can be executed, according to Justice 360, a group that defines itself as a defender of inmates, equity and transparency in death penalty cases and other major criminal cases.
The state asked the Supreme Court to throw out a lower court ruling after a 2022 trial that ruled that the electric chair and firing squad are cruel and unusual punishments. The court's justices added to Tuesday's appeal and arguments some questions about last year's identity protection law.
“Courts have never held that death has to be instantaneous or painless,” the governor's attorney said. Photo: Mike Fiala/ AFP/ file
Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman sided with the inmates whose expert witnesses testified that the prisoners They would feel terrible pain if their body was “cooked” with 2,000 volts of electricity in the electric chair, built in 1912, or if his heart were stopped by bullets from the not-yet-used firing squad, assuming that the three shooters hit the target.
South Carolina's current execution law requires inmates to be sent to the electric chair unless they choose a different method.
Lawmakers allowed a firing squad to be added in 2021. No legislation has been proposed in South Carolina to add nitrogen gas, which was first used to execute a prisoner last month in Alabama.
State lawmakers allowed a firing squad to be added in 2021. Photo illustration/ AP
Regarding the identity protection law, lawyers for the inmates argue that South Carolina's law is more secretive than that of any other state. They said prison officials should not be allowed to conceal the identity of pharmaceutical companies, the names of anyone assisting in an execution and the precise procedure applied.
Death with pentobarbital
In September, prison officials announced that they now had the sedative pentobarbital and changed the execution method to lethal injection of three drugs to just one. They released few other details other than to say South Carolina's method is similar to the protocol followed by the federal government and six other states.
The inmates argue that pentobarbital, compounded and mixed, It has a useful life of about 45 days. They want to know if there is a regular supplier of the medication and what guidelines are in place to ensure the strength is adequate.
If it is too weak, Inmates can suffer and not die. If it is too strong, the drug molecules can form small clumps that would cause intense pain when injectedaccording to court documents.
“No inmate in the country has been executed with so little transparency about how he would be executed,” wrote Lindsey Vann, an attorney with Justice 360.
Lawyers for the state said inmates want the information so they can find out who supplies the drugs and publicly pressure them to stop.
“Each new information is a piece of the puzzle, and with enough pieces, data subjects (or anyone else) can put them together to identify an individual or entity protected by identity protection law,” Lambert wrote.
South Carolina used to carry out an average of three executions per year and had more than 60 prisoners sentenced to death when the last execution was carried out in 2011. Since thensuccessful appeals and deaths have reduced the number to 33.
Prosecutors have only sent three new inmates to death row in the last thirteen years. Faced with rising costs, a lack of lethal injection drugs and stronger defenses, they are choosing to accept guilty pleas and life sentences without parole.
Translation: Elisa Carnelli