COLUMBIA, SC: South Carolina is dusting off its electric chair and trying to resume executions in the state after spending almost 10 years without putting an inmate to death.
A House committee on Tuesday voted 14-7 to make electrocution the default for an execution. The bill now goes to the floor of the House while a similar bill is in the Senate.
Currently, inmates can choose between electrocution and the current default method of lethal injection. Because the state does not have the drugs to put an inmate to death, South Carolina is under a de facto moratorium on the death penalty.
South Carolina last killed an inmate nearly 10 years ago and its supply of lethal injection drugs has since expired. In the previous decade, the state executed 17 people.
Detainees are coming to the end of their appeals, but the executions have been postponed, prison officials said. Gov. Henry McMaster called on lawmakers to find a way to revive the death penalty in his state-of-state address last month.
We have a legal status in South Carolina that cannot be enforced, ”said Republican Weston Newton of Bluffton.
South Carolina lawmakers have tried several means over the past few years to bring down executions unsuccessfully. There have been bills to protect the names of companies that supply lethal injection drugs to the public and bills supporting other methods such as firing squads or electrocution.
There were around 60 people in the death row on May 6, 2011, when Jeffrey Motts was the last person to be executed in the state, for killing a fellow inmate. Today, due to natural deaths and courts overturning death sentences and prosecutors accepting life sentences, the death row has fallen to 37 prisoners.
Prosecutors have also stopped asking for the death penalty. Only three new inmates have ended up on death row in the past decade.
Virginia lawmakers on Monday passed a bill ending the death penalty in that state, which has executed more people than anyone in the country.
Some have noted the candidacy for a different leadership in South Carolina.
We were talking here about facilitating the killing of people, ”said South Carolina Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg.
Bamberg also raised George Stinney, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. He was 14 when he was sent to an electric chair in 1944 for killing two white girls. A judge dismissed the black teen’s conviction in 2014.
South Carolina began using its electric chair in 1912 after it reverted the death penalty from counties, which typically used hanging. The state added lethal injection in the mid-1990s after wondering elsewhere if the electric chair was too barbaric.
Lethal injection was chosen by default for inmates who did not choose. Convicts could still choose electrocution, but only two of the last 37 death row inmates opted for the electric chair.
A Republican joined Democrats in voting against the bill. Rep. Neal Collins of Easley said the majority of the 37 death row inmates came from just four of the state’s 46 counties. More than half are black in a state where African Americans make up about a quarter of the population. And the vast majority of those blacks on death row killed a white victim.
You just can’t get past those statistics, ”said Collins, who is a lawyer in private practice who has assisted in a death penalty case.
Supporters of the bill did not speak much during Tuesday’s hearing. Representative Micah Caskey read a few paragraphs detailing the crimes that led one of the last prisoners to death row to a father who killed his five children, all under the age of 9.
The death penalty exists for the guilty, said Caskey, a Republican from British Columbia, “The death penalty exists because there are crimes for which the only justice that can be obtained is death.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.
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