South Carolina Supreme Court delays firing squad executions amid legal challenge

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South Carolina Supreme Court delays firing squad executions amid legal challenge

South Carolina's highest court — two days after abandoning plans for a rare firing squad execution — announced that it was putting another execution on hold as inmates challenge the constitutionality of the state's capital punishment methods.

The state Supreme Court has a temporary stay that means the planned May 13 execution of Brad Keith Sigmon won't move forward for now.

The order comes after the court temporarily blocked the state from executing Richard Bernard Moore, whose scheduled April 29 execution would have marked the country's first firing squad execution since 2010.

Moore and Sigmon were scheduled to be the first executed in South Carolina after a 2021 law made electrocution the state's default capital punishment method and gave death-row prisoners the option of execution by firing squad. So far, Sigmon had not chosen an execution method.

Lawyers for both men had sought stays, citing pending litigation in another court, challenging the constitutionality of South Carolina's execution methods.

The state Supreme Court has not given any explanation on exactly why the executions have been delayed and how long they will be delayed, with justices indicating that more detailed orders would be forthcoming in both cases.

The court said on Friday that prison officials should not move forward with the execution on April 29.

A state judge agreed last week to investigate a legal challenge brought by Moore, Sigmon and two other death row inmates who have mostly exhausted their appeals.

Their lawyers argue that both the firing squad and the electrocution are barbaric methods of killing.

The prisoners' attorneys want the judge to look at prison officials' claims that they can't get hold of lethal injection drugs, citing executions by that method carried out by other states and the federal government in recent years.

State officials blamed the decade-long hiatus for an inability to secure lethal injection drugs after the state's last batch expired in 2013.

Efforts to contact manufacturers and compounding pharmacies have proved unfruitful, according to Corrections Department officials.

The 2021 law that requires prisoners to choose between the firing squad and the electric chair was intended to solve that problem.

State prison officials had planned to electrocute Sigmon, a 64-year-old who had spent nearly two decades on death row after he was convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents with a baseball bat.

The High Court put the execution plan on hold, saying Sigmon needed to have a choice between the firing squad and the electric chair.

Prison officials last month said they had completed a $53,000,600, $73,980 overhaul of its death chamber to accommodate a firing squad and established protocols calling for three volunteer prison workers with rifles to carry out such an execution.

South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and one of four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

On Thursday, Tennessee's governor called off his state's first scheduled execution since the start of the epidemic, as well as elsewhere in the south.

The Republican governor, Bill Lee, said there was an unspecified oversight in plans to give Oscar Smith a lethal injection.