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South Carolina scheduled to hold first execution since 2011 with only electric chair available

An inmate in South Carolina has been issued an execution notice and the electric chair will be the only method available in the state. (Fernando Gregory/Dreamstime/TNS)

An inmate who has been on South Carolina’s death row since 2002 has been issued an execution notice, the first ordered since the state Legislature’s recent change to the law making the electric chair the default mode of execution.

The South Carolina Supreme Court issued the notice Thursday, directing the state Department of Corrections to execute Brad Sigmon, 63.

The execution must take place on the fourth Friday after the court gives notice, which is June 18. A corrections spokesperson confirmed the execution date.

The department recently notified the state Supreme Court that it is ready to carry out executions using the electric chair, according to a May 21 letter filed with the court.

Sigmon was one of three inmates who has received stays of execution in recent years because for years, South Carolina was unable to obtain the necessary drugs to carry on a lethal injection. Under former state law, the lethal injection was the default mode of execution, and unless an inmate specifically chose to die in the electric chair, the state could only execute them using the lethal drug cocktail.

Lawmakers voted to change the law during the last legislative session so the state would have the ability to carry out executions for the first time in about a decade. Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill, which makes the default mode of execution the electric chair, into law earlier this month.

Under the new law, inmates also have the choice to die by firing squad, but South Carolina currently does not have the infrastructure in place to perform an execution using that mode, according to Corrections.

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who fought to get the firing squad included as a method of execution in the new law, said he doesn’t understand why the Department of Corrections couldn’t work to have that as a viable option by Sigmon’s execution date.

Harpootlian, a former solicitor who tried death row cases, including South Carolina serial killer Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins, pushed to add the firing squad as a method of execution because he believes it’s much more humane than the electric chair. Harpootlian has called the electric chair “tortuous” and a “horrible, horrible thing to do to another human being.”

“He should have a less traumatic way to end his life,” the Richland Democrat said.

Thursday’s notice means that Sigmon will likely die in the electric chair, the first person to do so in South Carolina since June 20, 2008, when the state put convicted murderer James Earl Reed to death.

Though his execution date is set by the court and state law, there is a chance that it could again be postponed.

Sigmon and fellow death row inmate Freddie Owens filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections over the change in the execution law last week. Sigmon and Owens asked a Richland County court to weigh in on whether the retroactive nature of the new law — a section that would make it apply to current death row inmates, not just people sentenced to death after its passage — is constitutional.

In their lawsuit, Sigmon and Owens argue that when they received their respective death sentences, South Carolina law said their death sentences would be carried out by lethal injection unless they specifically chose death by electric chair. Neither inmate selected the electric chair, so they argue that it would be a violation of their constitutional rights to make them die in the chair.

According to a letter filed in the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, arguments in that case are scheduled for a hearing June 7. In an earlier letter to the Supreme Court, Sigmon’s lawyer asked that his execution be stayed while that case is still pending.

A call to Sigmon’s criminal case attorney Megan Barnes was not immediately returned.

Sigmon was convicted of two murders in 2002 for the killing of his ex-girlfriend’s parents in Greenville County. According to court records and news reports, Sigmon killed the pair of them with a baseball bat and tried to kidnap his ex-girlfriend, but she ultimately got away. He led police on a multiday manhunt before being captured.

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