Execution by firing squad returning to South Carolina

The South Carolina House voted to add a firing squad to the state’s execution methods amid a lack of lethal injection drugs.

The state’s supply of lethal injection drugs has expired, leaving the state unable to execute any of its 37 death row inmates used method. Currently, inmates can choose between the electric chair and lethal injection. Since the drugs are not available, they choose an injection.

The new bill allows inmates to choose between the firing squad or the electric chair if the lethal injection drugs are not available. The bill retains lethal injection as the primary method of execution if the state has the drugs.

The Senate approved the bill in March by a bipartisan vote of 32-11. After passing in the House with a vote of 66-43, the bill now heads to Republican Governor Henry McMaster, who has said he will sign it.

South Carolina’s last execution was in May of 2011. Since then, the number of death row inmates has fallen from 60 to 37. Prosecutors have sent just three new inmates to death row in the past decade.

Senator Greg Hembree, a former prosecutor and co-sponsor of the bill, is the only member of the state legislature to have witnessed an execution. Hembree tried nearly a dozen death penalty cases during his time as a prosecutor and watched one of the men he condemned to death die by lethal injection.

“There’s nothing pleasant about any of those forms. They are gruesome. They are sad and tragic in a way,” Hembree said. “Justice is not always a happy place. But it is justice.”

South Carolina first began using the electric chair in 1912. Prior to the electric chair being used, the state left the death penalty up to individual counties, which usually used hanging as their execution method. South Carolina is one of nine states to still use the electric chair and will be only the fourth to allow a firing squad. The other three states that allow a firing squad are Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah.

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.

In March, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a law banning the death penalty, making Virginia the 23rd state to do so.

“There is no place today for the death penalty in this commonwealth, in the South, or in this nation,” Northam said shortly before signing the legislation.