A South Carolina judge ruled Tuesday that using either a firing squad or electrocution to carry out the state's death penalty is unconstitutional.
''The court finds that plaintiffs are entitled to declaratory judgement that carrying out executions by electrocution and by firing squad violates the Constitution of the State of South Carolina and its prohibition on cruel, corporal, or unusual punishments,'' the ruling by Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman said. ''Defendants are permanently enjoined from forcing plaintiffs to be executed by firing squad or electrocution.''
The 5th Judicial Circuit lawsuit challenge to the state's methods for the death penalty was brought by four death row inmates, Freddie Eugene Owens, Brad Keith Sigmon, Gary Dubose Terry and Richard Bernard Moore, all convicted murderers who have been sentenced to death, according to the court document.
According to the document, the state set execution dates for the group's members between November 2020 and March 2021 after they had exhausted all their appeals in their respective cases.
Each of the men could decide within 14 days of their execution if they wanted to die by lethal injection or electrocution, with lethal injection being the default if they made no choice under South Carolina state law.
The state Department of Corrections, however, notified the men that the state was not able to obtain the drugs required for that method, and stayed the executions.
To deal with the problem, the state General Assembly amended the law in 2021 to add a firing squad, and lethal injections if available, and setting electrocution as the default method.
The lawsuit brought by the men argued, among other issues, that the methods violated the state's constitution as being cruel and corporal, and Newman agreed.
"In 2021, South Carolina turned back the clock and became the only state in the country in which a person may be forced into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die,'' Newman said in her order. ''In doing so, the General Assembly ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency."
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's spokesman, Brian Symmes, told the Greenville News that McMaster will appeal Newman's ruling to the state's Supreme Court.
''The Governor agrees with the circuit court's previous decision declining to issue an injunction, and he disagrees with today's ruling, which we plan to appeal,'' Symmes said in an email to the news outlet.
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