The South Carolina House has voted to add the firing squad to the state’s execution methods amid a lack of lethal-injection drugs.
Wednesday, after reporting about new DNA evidence that could have possibly staved the execution of Ledell Lee, the South Carolina House voted to add a firing squad to the state’s execution methods.
This comes after word drops about the growing lack of lethal-injection drugs, which makes this new bill a measure meant to jumpstart executions in a state that was once one of the busiest death chambers in the nation. Approved by a 66-43 vote, the bill will require condemned inmates to choose either being shot or electrocuted if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. South Carolina is also one of only nine in the country to still use the electric chair and will become only the fourth to allow a firing squad.
The last time the state executed a death row inmate was Jeffrey Brian Motts, who was given a lethal injection shot 10 years ago Thursday.
Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has said that he will sign the measure after the routine final vote in the House and a sign-off by the Senate is approved. Once that goes forward, there are several prisoners in line to be executed in South Carolina. Three of South Carolina’s 37 death row inmates are out of appeals, but lawsuits against the new death penalty rules are also likely. “Three living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat [are who] this bill is aimed at killing,” Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg said. “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.”
First used in 1912, electric chairs were the primary way how the death penalty was handled in the state of South Carolina after it took over those matters from its individual counties, which usually hanged prisoners. The other three states that even allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. South Carolina cannot put anyone to death now because its supply of lethal injection drugs have expired and it has not been able to purchase any more. And while inmates can currently decide how they want to die—between the electric chair and lethal injection—since the latter is unavailable, the firing squad appears to be the only other alternative.
“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 Republican Rep. Weston Newton, who is in favor of adding firing squads. Democrats in the House offered several amendments and even brought up George Stinney, the 14 year old Black teen who remains the youngest person executed in the U.S., as reasons to stave off the firing squads—but all failed.
In 2014, a judge threw out Stinney’s conviction, and Rep. Bamberg used the moment as an example to speak to the morality of the death penalty in America. “Not only did South Carolina give the electric chair to the youngest person ever in America, the boy was innocent.” Opponents such as Newton remarked that while the U.S. Supreme Court was reviewing lethal injections, the bill wasn’t the place to hold a discussion about executions in America.
“This bill doesn’t deal with the merits or the propriety of whether we should have a death penalty in South Carolina,” Newton said.