Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens: SC halts electric chair as inmates want firing squad
COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: The South Carolina Supreme Court halted the executions of two inmates on death row until the state establishes protocols for death by firing squad. As reported by WLTX, the high court issued an order late Wednesday afternoon, June 16, to stop the proceedings, just two days before inmate Brad Sigmon was to be put to death by the electric chair. Inmate Freddie Owens was to be executed a week later in the same way.
The justices said in their ruling that death row inmates had a legal right to choose how they wished to die. South Carolina currently has only one way of killing an inmate, the electric chair. While the court is not blocking the executions themselves, they are being delayed until the state comes up with a way to carry out the inmates' choice of execution method -- death by firing squad.
Speaking to WLTX, the South Carolina Department of Corrections confirmed that they had received the order from the Supreme Court of South Carolina
"The department is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad," a spokesperson for corrections said on Wednesday, June 16. "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."
Meanwhile, attorneys representing Sigmon and Owens have argued that the state has not exhausted all avenues to obtain lethal injection drugs. "At a bare minimum, the public has an interest in knowing the answer to the question the Movants have raised — whether a state may carry out executions in the electric chair, against the will of the condemned," one court filing said.
Sigmon was slated to die on June 18, Friday, and Owens on the subsequent Friday, June 25. The men would have been the first inmates to be executed in a decade in the state. A state circuit court, as well as a federal district court, had refused to halt the executions just last week.
No one on death row has been executed since 2011 in South Carolina, even though the death penalty is legal in the state. This was partly because the state was unable to get the drugs necessary to execute inmates by lethal injection.
Earlier this year, however, the South Carolina General Assembly passed new legislation aiming to bypass that problem by offering inmates the option to die by either the electric chair or firing squad. The measure was signed into law by Governor Henry McMaster, who said it was necessary to give families justice and closure.
Due to the novelty of the law, however, the South Carolina Department of Corrections is yet to establish protocols to use a firing squad. 63-year-old Sigmon was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend's parents, David and Gladys Larke, on April 27, 2001, when he beat them to death with a baseball bat. Meanwhile, Owens was convicted of taking the life of convenience store clerk Irene Graves during a robbery spree on Halloween 1997, per court documents.