SC lawmakers debate electric chair default if lethal injection drugs unavailable

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)– South Carolina, like other states with capital punishment, are left without a functioning death penalty as drug makers refuse to sell the drugs needed for lethal injections.

Convicted killer Richard Moore’s execution, which was scheduled for Friday, was delayed because South Carolina couldn’t procure the necessary drugs in time.

It’s not the first time. In 2017, serial killer Todd Kohlhepp was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murdering seven people.

“This was a death penalty case no question about it,” said 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette at the time.

Barnette didn’t seek the ultimate punishment, in part, because he said South Carolina “doesn’t have a functioning death penalty.”

Barnette declined to comment on that or the state of the death penalty today. However, little has changed. Thirty-seven inmates are currently sitting on South Carolina’s death row and the state is still unable to obtain the drugs needed to carry out their sentences.

In 2017, Gov. Henry McMaster called on lawmakers to pass a shield law to keep secret the suppliers of drugs used for executions. He said drug companies “don’t want to have anything to do with it for fear of retribution.”

FOX 46 reached out to two states with shield laws: Ohio and Texas. Ohio did not respond but Texas prison officials hinted the law has helped.

“I am unable to comment on anything involving execution drugs,” said Jeremy Desel with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “other than the fact that we use Pentobarbital and we have it in stock.”

Palmetto State lawmakers have been mulling a bill for a few years that would default death by electric chair if lethal injection drugs are not available.

“The electric chair is both gruesome and inhumane,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, which does not take a position on the death penalty.

Dunham says there have been more than 80 documented cases of botched electric chair executions that left witnesses horrified.

“When it is really badly botched you can see prisoners heads catching on fire,” he said. “Blood dripping from underneath the hood.”

There is also autopsy evidence, he says, indicating cases where inmates have been conscious during lethal injections. He says the procedure is not as “peaceful” as it appears.

State Sen. Shane Martin (R-Greenville, Spartanburg & Union Counties) has heard all of the criticism. He supports the electric chair and the firing squad – which lawmakers have also proposed as an alternative way to carry out executions – if it means justice for victims.

“What do you say to critics who say the electric chair and the firing squad are both gruesome and inhumane?,” asked FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant.

“I would tell them to look to the victim’s father, or somebody when something horrific was done to their child,” said Martin. “That’s what I would point to.”

South Carolina’s last execution was in 2011. North Carolina has not executed anyone since 2006 due to a series of legal challenges related to racial bias. Attorney General Josh Stein tells FOX 46 he supports the death penalty for the most heinous crimes but wants to make sure it is implemented in a way to ensure trials are not affected by race, his spokesperson said.

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