The future of executions in South Carolina hangs in the balance

A proposed bill would make electrocution the default method of execution in the state

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —Nearly 40 men and women are currently on death row in South Carolina, but no executions have been carried out since 2011.

Ever since he took over as the Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, Bryan Stirling says he has not given the green light for an execution.

“If we were ordered to carry out an execution, we would not be able to do that at this time because the drugs are simply not available. We have not been able to carry out an execution, but we have not had an order either,” Stirling said.

Senators Greg Hembree (R-Horry County) and Shane Martin (R-Spartanburg County) proposed a bill that would make electrocution the default method of execution if lethal injection drugs are not available.

Senator Hembree said if passed, the bill would prevent companies that supply the drugs from holding up the legal process.

The bill passed in the Senate, but currently resides in the House Judiciary Committee. Hembree said his goal is for the bill to be voted on in the House when the legislative session resumes in January.

Governor Henry McMaster (R-South Carolina) said he would sign off on that bill if it ended up on his desk.

“We would need to see that law enforcement moves forward and part of law enforcement is the execution of sentences and whatever it takes to accomplish those means, those ends, I will support,” Gov. McMaster said.

According to the SCDC, the last time an execution by electrocution took place was back in 2008, when convicted murderer James Earl Reed went to the electric chair.

SCDC officials said they say they have the chair ready to go if they need to use it again.

However, some argue that the method of execution is not the reason for the hold-up. 

“Everybody who is on death row right now is still in the midst of their appeals or appellate process, and so no one has made the election for what type of execution method they would prefer,” said Lindsey Vann, the Executive Director of Justice 360, a group that promotes transparency and fairness in capital cases.

According to Justice 360, 182 men and one woman have been sentenced to death in South Carolina since 1977. The most recent execution was Jeffrey Brian Motts, who was executed by lethal injection in 2011.

The most recent death sentence handed out was to Timothy Jones Jr. last week. Jones was convicted of killing his five children back in August 2014.

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