South Carolina: new law makes inmates choose firing squad or electric chair

By Coral Murphy Marcos

The governor of South Carolina, Henry McMaster, has quietly signed into law a bill that requires inmates on death row to choose between a firing squad or the electric chair if lethal injection is not available.

The law, signed without ceremony on Friday, comes amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs that has affected the state’s ability to implement capital punishment. South Carolina has not executed any prisoners since 2011.

Prisoners have chosen death by legal injection, leading to the halt in executions. The new law will put prisoners back in line to be killed by the state.

There are 37 people on death row in South Carolina who have exhausted the appeals process.

The state Senate approved the bill to add firing squads on 6 May, by a 66-43 vote.

South Carolina becomes the fourth state to allow death by firing squad. Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah already allow it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a not-for-profit group. Nine states allow the electric chair.

A failed version of the South Carolina bill attempted to require lawmakers to watch executions and to stream them live on the net.

Shifting views of capital punishment have led many drug companies to stop selling drugs used in lethal injections to states. In 2016, Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, imposed a new set of controls to ensure its products were not used by US prisons for executions.

“Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve,” the company said.

Joe Biden’s campaign website said he would work to end federal executions. He has not specified how. The Trump administration restarted federal killings after a 17-year hiatus. Thirteen prisoners were killed before Donald Trump left power.

In the US, capital punishment primarily affects people of color. One report shows some 40% of federal death row inmates are Black, compared with about 13% of the population.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1973 more than 170 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the US have been exonerated.