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South Carolina high court delays 2 executions until firing squad available

By
Kyle Barnett
South Carolina allows condemned inmates to choose their method of execution. Sigmon and Owens both chose lethal injection, but the only presently available method is electrocution. UPI Photo/File
South Carolina allows condemned inmates to choose their method of execution. Sigmon and Owens both chose lethal injection, but the only presently available method is electrocution. UPI Photo/File | License Photo

June 17 (UPI) -- South Carolina's Supreme Court has ordered delays for the executions of two condemned inmates who were scheduled to die this month because the electric chair is still the only method available to them.

The high court ruled Wednesday that the men, 63-year-old Brad Sigmon and 43-year-old Freddie Owens, cannot be put to death on their scheduled dates until the state presents them with another option of execution -- notably, death by firing squad.

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Lethal injection is also legal in South Carolina, but the state's difficulty in obtaining the necessary drugs has left the electric chair as the only available method of execution -- which attorneys for both men argue amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The state allows condemned inmates to choose their method of execution. Sigmon and Owens both chose lethal injection.

Sigmon, who was scheduled to die Friday, is the first of three death row inmates subjected to the new law allowing them to choose their method of death based on availability -- electrocution, firing squad or lethal injection.

Owens was scheduled for execution on June 25.

In their ruling Wednesday, the state Supreme Court said both men cannot be put to death because there is only one option available to them -- the state's 109-year-old electric chair.

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South Carolina lawmakers crafted the new law because the drugs used in lethal injection are becoming harder to find. For years, drugmakers have refused to provide them to corrections departments for executions, leading to schedule disruptions in a number of states.

Sigmon was originally scheduled to be executed in February, but received a stay then also because drugs were unavailable.

The state is now in the process of creating a firing squad so that the executions can be carried out. Only three other states currently offer a firing squad as a secondary method of execution, Utah, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

"The department is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad," department spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said in a statement to Newsweek.

"We are looking to other states for guidance through this process. We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions."

Attorneys for Sigmon and Owens also argue that electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the U.S. Constitution. However, the state counters that the U.S. Supreme Court has never deemed the electric chair a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

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