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South Carolina

Electrocution, Shooting May End SC Execution Impasse

Jason A G
flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

South Carolina House members may soon debate whether to restart the state's stalled death penalty with the electric chair and whether to add a firing squad to the execution methods.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would let condemned inmates choose death by being shot in the heart by several sharpshooters. That bill has already passed the Senate and Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would sign whatever reaches his desk.

The latest bill heads to the House floor to join another bill that would force death row inmates into the electric chair because South Carolina can no longer obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.

That lack of drugs has prevented South Carolina from killing an inmate for 10 years. From 2000 to 2010, the state averaged just under two executions a year.

Death row inmates in South Carolina get to decide how they die. They choose lethal injection since it can't be done. Both bills soon to be on the House floor require the state to use the electric chair if the drugs aren't available. One just adds the firing squad as another choice, with supporters saying dying from several bullets is more humane than electrocution.

Rep. Justin Bamberg told the other committee members that they were making a grave decision Tuesday since three of South Carolina's 37 inmates have run out of appeals and would have execution orders issued if the lethal injection drugs were available,

“If you vote for this, you are voting to kill at least three people," said Bamberg, a Democrat from the city of Bamberg.

Bamberg suggested nine amendments to the bill, which were all rejected. They included making executions public and showing them on the internet, and bringing back hanging or the guillotine. He also proposed creating a committee to study if the death penalty is meted out fairly in the state and another to abolish the death penalty altogether.

Bamberg also shared closeup photos of injuries like burns that inmates suffered during executions and described the sounds in the death chamber,

Rep. Max Hyde brought up 56-year-old death row inmate Richard Moore, who shot and killed a store worker in 1999 after taking the clerk's gun during a Spartanburg County robbery. Moore was shot in the arm and prosecutors said he left a trail of blood around the store as he looked for cash, stepping twice over the employee's body.

“I’d like to know how that sounded. Do we have any pictures of that?” said Hyde, a Republican from Spartanburg.

Moore is one of the three inmates who are out of appeals but can’t be executed.

The committee vote was 13-9 to approve the latest bill. Rep. Neal Collins of Pickens was the only Republican to vote against it, He said he is troubled by former death row inmates later exonerated and that the majority of inmates awaiting a death sentence come from just four of the state’s 46 counties.

Supporters of the death penalty spoke little at the hearing outside of pointing out that capital punishment remains legal in South Carolina and lawmakers have an obligation to make sure the state can carry out a lawful sentence.

Bamberg asked conservative lawmakers to at least consider how they passed a law earlier this session that outlawed abortions when a heartbeat can be detected in the womb. He asked if the heartbeats of inmates didn't count as life and why they thought life without parole wasn't punishment enough.

“I can think of no greater punishment — outside of going to hell — to serving the rest of your life in the South Carolina Department of Corrections," Bamberg said.