South Carolina State House Votes To Add Firing Squad To Execution Methods

The South Carolina State House on Wednesday voted to add the firing squad to the list of the state’s execution methods.

The legislation, which was approved by a 66-43 vote, will mandate that death-row inmates select either firing squad or electrocution in the event that lethal injection drugs are not available at the time of their scheduled execution. The Senate approved much the same bill in March by a vote of 32-11, which means the bill will likely soon go to Republican Governor Henry McMaster, who has already said he plans to sign it.

“We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law,” McMaster tweeted Wednesday after the vote. “I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk.”

When signed into law, South Carolina will become the fourth to allow a firing squad.

Like other states with capital punishment, South Carolina has struggled to secure lethal injection drugs. One Republican said that’s not fair.

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out,” said state Rep. Weston Newton.

In lieu of executions, prosecutors have sought guilty pleas “with guaranteed life sentences over death penalty trials, have cut the state’s death row population nearly in half — from 60 to 37 inmates — since the last execution was carried out in 2011,” The Associated Press reported. “From 2000 to 2010, the state averaged just under two executions a year.”

Before the vote, one state Democrat said lawmakers will have blood on their hands if they support the bill.

“Three living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat that this bill is aimed at killing,” said state Rep. Justin Bamberg. “If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.”

“Somehow, here today we find ourselves in the position in this body to once again give a voice to that belief system that in this state, we’re a state about life, while simultaneously taking up a bill that’s not about life, that doesn’t cater to the ‘belief system’ in our state that its a state of life,” Bamberg said. “This is about death.”

Said the AP:

South Carolina first began using the electric chair in 1912 after taking over the death penalty from individual counties, which usually hanged prisoners. The other three states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Three inmates, all in Utah, have been killed by firing squad since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1977. Nineteen inmates have died in the electric chair this century.

South Carolina can’t put anyone to death now because its supply of lethal-injection drugs expired and it has not been able to buy any more. Currently, inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. Since the drugs are not available, they choose injection.

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