A bill that would effectively make all executions in South Carolina come by electric chair got key approval in the state Senate on Tuesday.
South Carolina has not executed an inmate since 2011, largely because pharmaceutical companies have stopped supplying lethal injection drugs. S.872 would require any inmate who chooses to die by lethal injection instead get the chair if no drugs are available.
“Their victims were not given a choice,” the bill’s lead sponsor State Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville, said before the vote. “And it’s unacceptable that we will not only give them a choice, but if they can’t get their choice… it’s a life sentence instead of a death sentence.”
The Senate approved the bill in a 26-12 vote. They rejected an amendment by State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, which would have also given inmates the option of a firing squad. Senators will need to vote on the bill once more to send it to the House.
Under current law, once an inmate’s appeals are exhausted, he or she can choose either electrocution or lethal injection as the execution method. If lethal injection, the bill would require the Department of Corrections director first certify the agency is unable to obtain the compounds needed before the method could be changed to electrocution. No inmate has chosen death by electric chair since 2008.
Timmons argued inmates in prison for murder should not be able to avoid punishment because drugs are no longer available.
However, State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington questioned why the Senate was focusing its limited time on the measure when no inmates are currently up for execution. “There’s just going to be a lawsuit that you’re going to lose,” he said. “Children are not getting educated in our state, V.C. Summer’s got $9 billion (in debt)… teachers are underpaid. The system is out of whack.”
He questioned the constitutionality of forcing the electric chair on the current 36 inmates on South Carolina’s death row who believed they could choose lethal injection as a less painful method.