A death row inmate whose execution was scheduled for next week will have the process delayed.
Attorneys for 52-year-old Bobby Stone filed a motion this week to stay the execution until they could pursue a habeas corpus review of his case in federal court. The South Carolina Supreme Court had given an execution order for December 1.
Gov. Henry McMaster and his prisons chief said Monday the Department of Corrections would not be able to give Stone a lethal injection because South Carolina is not able to obtain the drugs it would need. Pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying execution drugs to states and most have also barred their suppliers from the same. McMaster wants lawmakers to change the law so suppliers can sell anonymously.
However, the head of a group which analyzes death penalty cases nationwide accused the governor of a “PR stunt.” Death Penalty Information Center executive director Robert Dunham said there was never a chance Stone would be executed next week, even if South Carolina had the drugs.
“Federal law says you can’t be executed unless you first had the opportunity to have a lawyer investigate your case and present your claims to a federal court,” Dunham told South Carolina Radio Network. “Bobby Wayne Stone has never had that opportunity. So, when the death warrant was issued… it was legally premature.”
Stone was sentenced to death after his conviction for killing a Sumter County deputy in 1997.
Courts have previously ruled all death row inmates must have their case reviewed by a federal judge to ensure there were no constitutional issues. While Stone had exhausted his legal avenues through state courts, Dunham said he had not yet been given the opportunity to take the additional step.
A Department of Corrections spokesman insists the request for a stay did not come until Monday evening, three hours after McMaster and agency director Bryan Stirling held the press conference. McMaster and Stirling called on the state legislature to approve a “shield law” which would keep any drug suppliers confidential so those suppliers could avoid backlash from pharmaceutical manufacturers or death penalty opponents.
“The SC Department of Corrections will remain focused on working with Governor McMaster and the legislature to pass a Shield Law,” spokesman Jeff Taillon said in an email.
But Dunham insists prison officials already knew the stay was inevitable.
“With this legally premature death warrant, scheduling an execution that wasn’t going to happen, the governor then used this as an opportunity to hold a press conference,” Dunham said. “South Carolina knew all along this execution wasn’t going to happen. At least, they should have known.”
It was not clear why the Supreme Court issued the execution order if Stone’s legal options still exist in federal court. A court clerk did not return a call seeking an explanation Tuesday.