COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina is poised to make significant changes this year to the way it executes death row inmates, giving the state an avenue to use electrocution and adding firing squads as an option.
A state House panel opted Wednesday to keep death by firing squad as an option for executions when it took up a Senate proposal that cleared the upper chamber last month. The Senate measure, sponsored by former solicitor and state Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, would make the electric chair the state’s new default method of execution but give death row inmates whose appeals have been exhausted the option to die by firing squad.
Right now, death row inmates have the choice between death by lethal injection or electrocution. However, the state cannot currently carry out lethal injection deaths because it doesn’t have and cannot obtain the necessary chemicals. At the same time, the state cannot force someone to die by electrocution.
“I’ve come before you and the Senate for several years now, five or six years, saying that we could not carry out execution by lethal injection because we could not obtain the drugs,” Bryan Stirling, head of the state Department of Corrections, testified Wednesday.
The legislation does not spell out how death by firing squad would work.
Only three states — Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — allow death by firing squad, with lethal injection as the primary execution method, according to nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. But firing squads have not been used in the country in more than a decade. The last reported use was in Utah in 2010.
“We can carry out death by firing squad if the law is passed,” Stirling said.
The state has been unable to carry out executions by lethal injections because of a nationwide shortage in the required drugs, a dilemma that was raised in 2017 when the state lacked the necessary chemical cocktail to carry out its first execution in six years.
South Carolina has not carried out an execution by lethal injection since 2011 and an execution by electrocution since 2008.
As of Wednesday, South Carolina has 37 people listed as death row inmates who have been sentenced to death.