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South Carolina electric chair executions halted as court says death row killers must get firing squad option | US News

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The executions of two inmates have been blocked by a US court, who ruled they must get the choice to die by firing squad.

The South Carolina supreme court halted the executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, ruling that officials needed to put together a firing squad to give them the option of how to be killed.

Sigmon, 63, was scheduled to be executed using the electric chair on Friday, the first use of capital punishment in the state in a decade.

He was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend’s parents with a baseball bat in 2002.

Owens’ electric chair execution was set for 25 June, having been convicted of murdering a store worker during a robbery in 1999.

The state recently changed its capital punishment law to address a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

Image:
A new law means prisoners must have a choice how to die if the lethal injection is not available. Pic AP

It now forces death row inmates to choose between electrocution or firing squad if the drugs are unavailable.

The law aimed to restart the state’s executions after a 10-year pause caused by its inability to produce the lethal injection.

Prisons officials had previously said they could not get hold of the drugs and had yet to put together a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old electric chair as the only option.

“The department is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad,” said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain after the court ruling.

“We are looking to other states for guidance through this process. We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions.”

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Lawyers for the men said electrocution was cruel and unusual and that the new law moves the state toward less humane execution methods.

They said the men had the right to die by lethal injection – the method both chose – and that the state hadn’t exhausted all methods to acquire the drugs.

Lawyers for the state maintained that prison officials were simply carrying out the law and that the US Supreme Court had never found electrocution to be unconstitutional.

South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

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.

Death penalty opponents called for South Carolina to scrap capital punishment altogether.

Abraham Bonowitz, director of the national group Death Penalty Action, said he was grateful the execution plans were blocked but felt a bigger change was needed.

South Carolina has not executed someone in 10-years and there are currently 37 men on death row. Pic AP
Image:
There are 37 men on the state’s death row. Pic AP

“It’s always good news when executions are put on hold, but if the conversation is only about how we kill our prisoners, rather than if the state should have this power, something is very, very wrong,” he said.

“All of this is unnecessary and a costly waste of taxpayer dollars that could be better supporting the needs of all victims of violent crime.”

At a rally on Wednesday, people marked the anniversary of the electrocution of 14-year-old George Stinney, the youngest person executed in America in the 20th century.

Stinney was still a teenager when he was sent to South Carolina’s electric chair after a one-day trial in 1944 in connection with the killings of two white girls.

A judge threw out the black teenager’s conviction in 2014.

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