2018-03-12 / Columns

THEIR VIEW

South Carolina’s death row dilemma

Without access to lethal-injection drugs, the state has been unable to execute convicted killers since 2013. That leaves the Legislature with three choices, none of them good. Do lawmakers revive the electric chair, a relic that fell out of favor nationwide after numerous botched and gruesome executions? What about firing squads, an archaic and particularly violent method of execution that failed to garner support here three years ago? Or should the state make secret deals to obtain lethal-injection drugs from unidentified drugmakers?

Prosecutors such as 1st Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe are fed up with waiting for an answer. From their perspective, a jury found these men guilty of heinous crimes, they were sentenced and the state must find a way to carry out the sentences. If not, what’s the point of being a capital punishment state?

The questions are complicated by the excruciatingly slow legal process of carrying out death sentences, which also is unfair to the victims’ families even when the drugs are available. All but three death row inmates in South Carolina have been awaiting their turn for at least a decade. No one has been executed since 2011. The number of death-row inmates has declined from 51 in 2013, when the state’s drug supply ran out, to 36 today.

In a grim war of attrition, the inmates are either dying or getting their sentences converted to life faster than the state can find a way to execute them.

Drug-makers stopped selling the necessary drugs to states because of the potential backlash of being associated with capital punishment. Fewer states and countries have the death penalty today but support remains strong in South Carolina, where 65 percent of respondents to the Winthrop Poll released Wednesday said they want to keep it. Just over half of them, however, agreed that it’s not applied fairly nationwide.

Bills in the House and the Senate would make the electric chair the default method for killing death row inmates if the state can’t get lethal injection drugs. The Legislature should resist the urge to approve these measures. Electrocution dates back to the 1880s when it was used to kill animals, but it soon found favor as an alternative to hanging criminals. It hasn’t always worked as planned, leading to death-chamber horror stories and executions lasting a grueling 20 minutes or more.

Many would say these killers got what they deserved and that they didn’t give their victims a choice, which always brings up the question: Is the purpose of capital punishment to dispense justice or to inflict pain and suffering?

Mr. Pascoe recently mentioned the firing squad idea after reluctantly agreeing to a life sentence for a convicted murderer who had won a new sentencing hearing. The prosecutor didn’t want to put the victim’s family through that ordeal again.

The firing squad, while a strange ritual to most people, does have the advantage of bringing about death faster than electrocution or lethal injection, which at times also has resulted in long, painful deaths.

Even so, it might be difficult for citizens to get behind the idea of the state shooting people to death. Rep. Joshua Putnam proposed a firing squad bill in 2015 that failed to catch on.

After hearing of Mr. Pascoe’s frustration, Rep. Putnam, R-Piedmont, is taking another swing at it. Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah are the only states that permit firing squads, though they have been used rarely over the years.

Lethal injection is the most acceptable of the three execution options.

And South Carolina should be able to obtain the necessary drugs without having to keep the names of drug providers secret, a proposal endorsed by Gov. Henry McMaster and Corrections Director Bryan Stirling.

While this would give companies the anonymity they desire and allow executions to resume, the state shouldn’t have to resort to secret deals to carry out a judicial mandate supported by a large majority of South Carolinians.

— The (Charleston) Post and Courier

ALL BUT THREE...

... death row inmates in South Carolina have been awaiting their turn for at least a decade. No one has been executed since 2011.

The number of death-row inmates has declined from 51 in 2013, when the state’s drug supply ran out, to 36 today.

In a grim war of attrition, the inmates are either dying or getting their sentences converted to life faster than the state can find a way to execute them.

... The firing squad, while a strange ritual to most people, does have the advantage of bringing about death faster than electrocution or lethal injection, which at times also has resulted in long, painful deaths. Even so, it might be difficult for citizens to get behind the idea of the state shooting people to death.

Rep. Joshua Putnam proposed a firing squad bill in 2015 that failed to catch on. After hearing of Mr. Pascoe’s frustration, Rep. Putnam, R-Piedmont, is taking another swing at it. Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah are the only states that permit firing squads, though they have been used rarely over the years.

Return to top

Print Edition

Click here for digital edition
2018-03-12 digital edition

Special Sections

Poll

Who do you support for Cherokee County Sheriff?