South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a bill requiring inmates on death row make the choice between death by firing squad or by electric chair after executions stalled in the state due to a shortage of the drug used in lethal injections.
“This weekend, I signed legislation into law that will allow the state to carry out a death sentence,” McMaster tweeted on Monday.
“The families and loved ones of victims are owed closure and justice by law. Now, we can provide it.”
The governor quietly signed the bill last Friday, about two days after the Senate voted to approve a few minor changes that the House made to it. Conservatives had pushed for the law after the state was unable to obtain lethal injection drugs for several years due to supplier reluctance, and under the previous law the state could not executive a prisoner who had selected lethal injection by different means if that option is unavailable.
The new law requires death row inmates be asked if they want to die by lethal injection, firing squad or electric chair. If none is selected, the inmate will be executed via the electric chair. South Carolina has never used a firing squad for an execution and has no system in place for doing so despite recently introducing it as an option.
South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesperson Chrysti Shain told The State that the department will begin writing policy based on the new law for how to carry out executions by firing squad.
“We would look for guidance from other states and the courts as to what has been deemed constitutional,” Shain said.
Opponents of the death penalty pushed back on the law, and attorneys representing inmates on South Carolina’s death row are considering filing a lawsuit.
“These are execution methods that previously were replaced by lethal injection, which is considered more humane, and it makes South Carolina the only state going back to the less humane execution methods,” Lindsey Vann of Justice 360, a nonprofit that represents some of the inmates of death row, told the Associated Press.
Others brought up the execution of 14-year-old George Stinney in 1994, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century, for a conviction that was overturned by a judge in 2014.
“In the midst of a national reckoning around systemic racism, our Governor ensured that South Carolina’s death penalty — a system rooted in racial terror and lynchings — is maintained,” said Frank Knaack, the executive director of the South Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.
“If you’re cool with the electric chair, you might as well be cool with burning at the stake,” added Rep. Jonathon Hill, a Republican from Townville.
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