A US judge has ruled that carrying out executions by electric chair or by firing squad is unconstitutional and worthy of “torture”.
The attorneys for four South Carolina inmates, who sued the state, have argued that inmates will feel terrible pain whether their bodies are “cooking” with electricity or when their hearts are burning. get stopped by a marksman bullet – assuming they’re on target.
And on Tuesday, Judge Jocelyn Newman ruled that both the newly created firing squad and the state’s use of the electric chair should be abolished.
The state’s governor, Republican Henry McMaster, said he plans to appeal her decision.
From 1995 to 2011 – when the state’s last execution was carried out – South Carolina carried out death penalty with lethal injections on 36 prisoners.
However, when the state’s supply of lethal injections expired in 2013, the involuntary moratorium on executions resulted in pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell more to the state.
Convicted prisoners technically have a choice between injection and electrocution, meaning that the previous choice would essentially render the sentence unenforceable.
Execution ‘must be humane’
Struggling to implement new execution protocols, prison officials sought help from state legislators, who for several years had considered adding firing squads as an option to other methods. legislation was approved, but the debate about it never progressed.
Last year, Democratic Senator Dick Harpootlian and Republican Senator Greg Hembree, both former prosecutors, argued again in favor of the addition of the firing squad.
“The death penalty will be in the law here for a while. If it continues, it has to be humane,” Mr. Harpootlian said.
At a hearing last month before Judge Newman, attorneys representing the state provided evidence from their experts, who appeared to agree with them and said death by firing squad had not been completed. used or the rarely used electric chair will be immediately and sentenced. won’t feel pain.
The final measure has been approved, Mr. McMaster signed it into law last year, made South Carolina the fourth US state to allow the use of firing squads, and made the state electric chair – built in 1912 – as the default method for executions, thus giving prisoners a new choice.
The South Carolina Supreme Court later blocked the plan to execute the two inmates by electrocution, however, saying they could not be executed until they actually had the specified firing option. in the newly revised state law.
Bullets ‘split in the heart’
Earlier this year, the state rolled out its updated enforcement protocols, including the new approach.
During a trial last month, a Department of Corrections official said he devised the firing procedures after consulting with a prison official in Utah, where the only three inmates died by firing squad since 1977.
Colie Rushton, the department’s chief security officer, testified that the .308 Winchester ammunition to be used was designed to fragment and subdivide the heart to make death as quick as possible.
In his ruling, Judge Newman repeated the testimony of two doctors, who said an inmate was “likely to be awake for at least 10 seconds after impact”.
During that time, the judge wrote, “he will feel extreme pain from gunshot wounds and broken bones”, a feeling that “constitutes torture” as it is “aggravated by any any of his movements, such as flinching or breathing.”
Dr Jonathan Arden testified that the electric chair causes “effects on parts of the body, including internal organs, equivalent to cooking”.
Only three inmates in South Carolina have chosen the electric chair since the lethal injection was introduced in 1995.
Officials with the State Corrections Bureau told the AP news agency they were “evaluating the ruling”.