Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Explainer: How the South Carolina Execution Firing Squad Works

COLOMBIA, SC ( Associated Press) – It is unknown how long the execution of Richard Bernard Moore will be put on hold – South Carolina’s first prisoner to be put to death by firing squad – as his lawyers pursue legal challenges.

But the issuance of Moore’s death warrant, which was initially planned to be executed on April 29, has sparked interest in how one state speeds up its plan to put a prisoner to death. The method is employed in only a handful of states and has not been used in the US for more than a decade.

South Carolina established the Firing Squad Option last year, giving condemned prisoners the choice between that and electrocution, driven by an inability to purchase lethal injection drugs.

In selecting the firing squad, Moore, 57, said he did not believe either method was legal or constitutional, but he opposed death by electric shock more and only opted for firing squad because they needed to make a choice.

Moore served the death penalty for the 1999 murder of convenience store clerk James Mahoney in Spartanburg. Planning to rob the store for money to support his cocaine habit, investigators say Mahoney pulled a gun, which Moore was able to wrestle and use to shoot the clerk.

A May 13 execution has also been set for another prisoner, Brad Sigmon, although a state judge is examining his legal argument that electrocution and firing squad are both “barbaric” methods of murder.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based non-profit, there have been only three executions by firing squad in the United States since 1976. Ronnie Lee Gardner’s will be Moore’s first film since 2010 Execution by a five-man firing squad in Utah.

When did this process start?

South Carolina – once one of the busiest death chambers in the country – has been unable to carry out any executions since 2011, an involuntary pause that officials have attributed to the state’s inability to procure The trifecta of drugs needed to execute a lethal injection. Condemned prisoners had the choice between injection and electrocution, meaning that choosing the former would render the state incapable of serving the sentence.

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For many years, lawmakers have considered adding firing squads as an alternative to approved methods, but the debate never progressed. Last year, Democratic Sen. Dick Harputlian and GOP Sen. Greg Hembrey, both previously served as prosecutors, argued in favor of adding a re-firing squad option.

“The death penalty is going to remain the law here for some time. If it’s going to stay, it must be humane,” Harputlian said, adding that firing squad provided a more humane option than electrocution, if executions were to continue in a GOP-dominated state.

the measure, Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed it into law last May, making South Carolina the fourth state in the country to allow the use of firing squads, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit.

How is the execution done?

Since the bill’s passage, the South Carolina Department of Corrections has worked to re-establish its existing death room in Columbia—where executions by lethal injection and electrocution have been performed for more than 30 years—to meet the needs of a firing squad. to accommodate.

The agency spent $53,600 in state funding on repairs, which included the installation of bullet-resistant glass between the death chamber and witnesses, as well as a metal chair to which the prisoner would be strapped. They also cut through the brick wall of the chamber to create a hole through which the three shooters – all volunteer staff from the Department of Corrections – would thread their weapons, all filled with live ammunition.

According to a memo released last month, located in one corner of the room, there is an aperture 15 feet from the condemned While the prisoner would be visible to witnesses, officials said the shooters and their weapons would not be there by the prison agency.

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The electric chair, which officials say cannot be removed from the chamber, will be covered in its place between the glass wall and the firing squad chair.

After the opportunity to make a final statement, the prisoner will be tied to a chair and a hood will be placed over his head. An execution team member will place a “small target point” on the prisoner’s heart.

After the warden read out the execution order, the officials said that the team would open fire. The agency did not specify what caliber rifle the volunteer shooters would use, nor the details of the “certain qualifications” they would need to meet.

Who will witness this?

According to the Department of Corrections, in addition to state officials, three media witnesses, as well as three witnesses from the victim’s family, may be involved in the chamber to carry out the execution.

State law also allows for religious and legal counsel for the prisoner, as well as representatives of law enforcement and local prosecutors.

What happens afterwards?

As is standard with all South Carolina executions, a physician will examine the prisoner and announce the death. A photo released by corrections officers showed a draped metal basin under the prisoner’s chair, as well as a rectangular box directly behind him, presumably to absorb bullets.

Soon after, witnesses will be taken out of the room and taken to the Correctional Headquarters building, where other media will congregate.

At the sight of witnesses, the prisoner’s body is removed from the chamber and taken for an autopsy before being returned to the prisoner’s family by the Richland County Coroner’s Office.


Meg Kinnard can be reached here,


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