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Firing squad ready to be carried out for inmate executions, SC’s prison system says

Pistols at a firing range. (Pexels/Released)

Executions by a state-approved firing squad are now able to be carried out in South Carolina.

The S.C. Department of Corrections informed the state’s Attorney General Alan Wilson Friday that it is now able to execute death row inmates using a three-person firing squad using live ammunition if an inmate chooses that method.

The Legislature passed a law in 2021 that makes the electric chair South Carolina’s primary method of execution, but gives inmates the option to choose death by firing squad or lethal injection if available. Lethal injection has been unavailable for years in South Carolina.

The executions will be carried out at the department’s Broad River Correctional Institution outside of downtown Columbia, after the agency spent about $53,600 on supplies and materials to make the changes and comply with state law.

To carry out the execution, the agency said the firing squad will stand behind a wall and use rifles. But the department did not specify what type of rifle or what kind of ammunition. All firing squad members will be volunteers. The rifles will not be visible to the witness room, and, unlike the electric chair, the witnesses will only be able to see the right side of the inmate’s profile.

Witnesses will be separated from the chamber by bullet-resistant glass.

The inmate, wearing a prison-issued uniform, will be giving the opportunity to make a last statement and then will be strapped into the execution chair and a hood will be placed over their head.

A “small aim point will be placed over his heart by a member of the execution team,” at which point the warden will read the execution order and the team will fire, the department said.

When the inmate is declared dead and the curtain is moved, witnesses will be escorted out.

South Carolina has 35 inmates now on death row. The last execution was carried out in 2011. The state has been unable to carry out executions because it lacks the drugs necessary for the lethal injection method. In large part because of the delay, lawmakers added the firing squad option to the law.

South Carolina is now one of four states that offer the firing squad as an execution option, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The other states are Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Last year, The State newspaper published interviews with former South Carolina executioners who said they had suffered psychologically from putting people to death.

On Friday, the department said the volunteer firing squad members “must meet certain qualifications” to carry out the method. It did not, however, say what those qualifications are.

“It’s tragic that a civilized society should eliminate anybody,” said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D- Richland, one of the sponsors of the firing squad legislation. “But if it has to be done, it should be done as humanely as possible.”

The electric chair burns people alive, said Harpootlian, a former state prosecutor who prosecuted death penalty cases and witnessed an electric chair execution.

“If you’ve got to do it,” he said, “this is a better way.”


(c)2022 The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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