South Carolina is ordered to form an actual firing squad

(AP Photo/Virginia Department of Corrections, File)

We recently discussed a new law in South Carolina designed to allow condemned inmates the choice between being executed in the electric chair or a firing squad. This was intended to address their lack of access to the drugs required to execute inmates via lethal injection. The passage of that law cleared the way for two condemned murderers to be executed this month in the electric chair, or so the legislature believed. Those plans were once again confounded yesterday when the state supreme court stepped in and put the executions on hold. The court wasn’t arguing that the men couldn’t be put to death, however. The judges found that the inmates didn’t have a true choice in how they would die because South Carolina doesn’t actually have a firing squad lined up to do the deed. So now they’re going to have to find some willing marksmen to volunteer to shoot the killers if that’s the option they go with. (Associated Press)

The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked the planned executions of two inmates by electrocution, saying they cannot be put to death until they truly have the choice of a firing squad option set out in the state’s newly revised capital punishment law.

The high court halted this month’s scheduled executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, writing that corrections officials need to put together a firing squad so that inmates can really choose between that or the electric chair. The state’s plans, the court wrote in an unanimous order, are on hold “due to the statutory right of inmates to elect the manner of their execution.”

The executions were scheduled less than a month after the passage of a new law compelling the condemned to choose between electrocution or a firing squad if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The statute is aimed at restarting executions after an involuntary 10-year pause that the state attributes to an inability to procure the drugs.

Brad Sigmon has been on death row for decades because he beat his girlfriend’s parents to death with a baseball bat. Freddie Owens murdered a convenience store clerk during a botched robbery attempt. Both men were sentenced to die for their crimes and each chose lethal injection as the way to shuffle off this mortal coil.

The problem is that major pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs needed for lethal injection are refusing to sell them to state governments seeking to perform executions. That was an obvious bit of virtue signaling on the part of the manufacturers, intended to show that they oppose capital punishment in principle. You have to wonder if they might be rethinking that decision now. Due to their refusal to do business, they will effectively be sending two monsters to either have several thousand volts of electricity pumped through their bodies or to be tied to a stake while a dozen people pump lead into them. Is that really a better outcome than lying on a table and being put to sleep?

The South Carolina Department of Corrections issued a statement saying that they were working with officials from other states who maintain execution squads to determine the best way to set one up. New statutes and procedures will need to be put in place in order to establish a firing squad and volunteers will be needed. That brings up an intriguing question for us to consider. Who actually puts up their hand when the call goes out for volunteers to handle this gruesome chore? I can remember thinking to myself that I would definitely sign up if Massachusetts needed some people to shoot Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but with more time to reflect on the question, I’m not so sure that I could go through with it.

Taking a human life is a serious matter and not one to be taken lightly unless you’re really some sort of sociopath. I still support capital punishment and agree that there are some people who are so evil that they really need to die, but could I really step up to the line and pull the trigger? Could you? I enlisted in the military as a teenager knowing that I might someday have to kill people, but that’s what happens in war, and the opponents are trying to kill you first. But even then the act of taking lives can leave scars. My father had to kill quite a few Germans in World War 2 and it completely changed him for the rest of his life.

Still, four other states have firing squads so you can always find someone to do an unpleasant task when it needs to be done. I’m guessing that South Carolina will find some people who are up to the task. But for now, Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens have managed to purchase themselves a few more weeks or months above ground.