Federal judge weighing whether death sentences in SC will be carried out as scheduled

Published: Jun. 9, 2021 at 8:21 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/AP) - Whether two South Carolina death row inmates will be put to death this month and the method is now in the hands of a federal judge.

Following a state judge’s decision to not stop the execution of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens this month, Chief U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell did not indicate how he would rule in the federal case surrounding the executions, according to the Associated Press.

“I understand the gravity of the matter,” Harwell said according to the AP.

Wednesday’s case surrounded whether death by electric chair was constitutional and the lawyers representing Sigmon and Owens argued electrocution is a cruel method of dying.

“It’s a direct challenge to electrocution because it’s the only way they can execute someone and the gist of that is there should be a way to carry out lethal injection,” said Cornell University Professor and Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project.

Blume, also the former Executive Director of the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center, said more than a dozen other states have carried out lethal injections in the past couple of years. Lawyers for the inmates are arguing South Carolina has not done everything possible to obtain the cocktail of drugs needed to carry out the lethal injection.

“Other states like Texas and Arizona have lethal injections scheduled coming up and they carried out executions,” Blume said.

According to the AP, lawyers for the Governor and Dept. of Corrections say they did everything possible to obtain the drugs multiple times and were denied.

Both inmates have exhausted all their appeals, but the lawyers are also arguing the law passed by the South Carolina legislature at the end of the session says inmates on death row should be given the option to die by firing squad even though the electric chair is the default method.

“No other state has electrocution as the primary method of execution where they can execute you over your objection in the electric chair,” Blume said.

Lawyers for the inmates wrote the electric chair allows for “a substantial risk of excruciating pain, terror, and certain bodily mutilation,” to their clients.

Blume also said it is possible the Judge decides to put a pause on the executions for now and wait for either the lethal injection drugs to be available in South Carolina or the firing squad facilities to be ready for use.

“There’s a better than average chance that someone will say, ‘well, you know, what’s a couple of months to work out if this law is constitutional or not,” said Blume. “These men have been on death row for 20 years.”

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