Columbia, SC – South Carolina senators voted to bring back firing squads as a method of execution for death row inmates on Tuesday.
The firing squad option was added to a proposed bill that would make the electric chair the default method of inmate execution due to a nationwide shortage of drugs used for lethal injections, The State reported.
South Carolina death row inmates are currently given a choice between the electric chair and lethal injection, but the drug shortage has created a situation in which executions are being pushed back indefinitely.
The state has not been able to obtain the necessary lethal injection drugs since approximately 2016, according to The State.
Under the proposed bill, inmates would be given the option of the electric chair, lethal injection, or the firing squad, The Washington Post reported.
If they were to choose lethal injection and the drugs were still not available, they would then be required to select either the firing squad or the electric chair as opposed to pushing out the execution date indefinitely.
“For several years, as most of you know, South Carolina has not been able to carry out executions,” State Senator Greg Hembree (R-Dillon and Horry Counties) said ahead of the vote, according to The Washington Post. “Families are waiting. Victims are waiting. The state is waiting.”
Hembree, a former prosecutor who has handled death penalty cases, co-sponsored the bill, The State reported.
“Carrying out justice is important,” he said. “But you don’t want to torture anybody needlessly. That’s not the government’s place.”
“There’s nothing pleasant about any of those forms. They are gruesome, they are sad and tragic in a way,” he noted, according to WGAL. “Justice is not always a happy place. But it is justice.”
Sen. Richard Harpootlian (D-Lexington and Richland Counties), another former prosecutor, noted there has not been a single instance of a botched execution by the trained marksmen who carry out executions in Utah, The State reported.
“They’re dead instantly,” Harpootlian said. “The actual pain and suffering of death, it’s actually the least painful and the least suffering of any manner of death.”
Harpootlian said he “abhors” the death penalty, but that he recognizes the state is not going to abolish it in the near future, The State reported.
“If we’re going to have it, it should be humane,” he said, noting that the electric chair is a “horrible, horrible thing to do to another human being.”
“They are burned to death,” Harpootlian said.
“I am no frothing-at-the-mouth prosecutor championing the death penalty,” he added, according to The State. “It is wrong. Morally wrong. But also morally necessary in some extreme cases.”
The senators voted 32-11 to give the amended bill a second reading, and the measure is expected to pass by the end of this week, The State reported.
It is also expected to pass the House, which has pushed a similar bill already this session.
There are currently 37 inmates on death row in South Carolina, The Washington Post reported.
The state has executed 282 inmates since the implementation of the electric chair in 1912, but there have been no deaths by electrocution since 2008.
Lethal injections have been authorized in South Carolina since 1995, The Washington Post reported.
The last execution carried out in the state occurred in May of 2011, according to WGAL.
In addition to Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma also allow firing squads for executions.
During his State of the State address in January, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster called on lawmakers to find a way to end the death row stalemate, The Washington Post reported.
“I ask the General Assembly: fix this,” McMaster said. “Give these grieving families and loved ones the justice and closure they are owed by law.”