Colombia, SC – It is unknown how long a stay will delay the execution of Richard Bernard Moore – South Carolina’s first-ever inmate to be executed by firing squad – while his attorneys pursue legal challenges.
But the issuance of Moore’s death sentence, originally scheduled for April 29, has reignited interest in how a state is going about its plans to shoot an inmate. The method is only used in a handful of states and has not been used in the US for more than a decade.
South Carolina introduced the firing squad option just last year, giving convicted inmates a choice between it and electrocution due to an inability to obtain lethal injectable drugs.
In choosing the firing squad, Moore, 57, said he did not concede that either method was legal or constitutional, but that he was more averse to death by electrocution and only chose the firing squad because he had a choice to make.
Moore handed down the death sentence for the 1999 murder of convenience store clerk James Mahoney in Spartanburg. Investigators planned to rob the store for money to support his cocaine addiction and say Mahoney pulled a gun that Moore wrestled away and used to shoot the clerk.
Another inmate, Brad Sigmon, was also given a May 13 execution date, despite a state judge considering his legal argument that both electrocution and firing squad were “barbaric” methods of killing.
According to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, only three executions have been carried out by firing squad in the United States since 1976. Moore’s would be the first since Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a five-man firing squad in Utah in 2010.
WHEN DOES THIS PROCESS BEGIN?
South Carolina — once home to one of the busiest death chambers in the country — has been unable to conduct executions since 2011, an involuntary pause officials attribute to the state’s inability to source the trifecta of drugs needed for a fatal execution be injection. Convicted inmates had a choice between injection and electrocution, meaning that choosing the former would essentially render the state unable to carry out the sentence.
For several years, lawmakers considered adding firing squad as an option to legal methods, but the debate never progressed. Last year, Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian and GOP Sen. Greg Hembree, both previously serving as prosecutors, again advocated adding the firing squad option.
“The death penalty will remain the law here for a while. If it’s going to stay, it should be humane,” Harpootlian said, positing that the firing squad presented a more humane alternative than electrocution if executions continued in the GOP-dominated state.
The measure, signed into law by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster last May, made South Carolina the fourth state in the country to allow the use of a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
HOW IS THE EXECUTION DONE?
Since the bill passed, the South Carolina Department of Justice has been working to retrofit its existing death chamber in Columbia — where executions by lethal injection and electrocution have been carried out for more than 30 years — to accommodate the needs of a firing squad.
The agency spent $53,600 in state funds on renovations, including installing bulletproof glass between the death chamber and the witnesses and a metal chair to which the inmate is strapped. They also cut into the chamber’s brick wall to create an opening through which the three gunmen – all prison service volunteers – will insert their live ammunition-loaded guns.
The opening is 15 feet from the convicts and in a corner of the room, according to a memo released by the prison authority last month. While the occupant will be visible to witnesses, officials said the gunmen and their guns would not.
The electric chair, which officials say cannot be removed from the chamber, is covered in its place between the glass wall and the firing squad chair.
After the opportunity to make a final statement, the inmate is strapped into the chair and a hood is placed over his head. A member of the execution team places a “small aiming dot” over the prisoner’s heart.
After the warden read out the execution warrant, officers said the team would shoot. The agency has not specified what caliber the volunteer shooters will use, nor details of the “specific qualifications” they must meet.
WHO WILL BE THERE TO WITNESS IT?
In addition to the state officials in the chamber assigned to carry out the execution, three media witnesses and three witnesses from the victim’s family may attend the execution, according to the Correctional Authority.
State law also permits religious and legal counseling for the inmate, as well as representatives of law enforcement and local prosecutors.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER?
As is usual with all executions in South Carolina, a doctor will examine the inmate and issue a declaration of death. A photo released by correctional facility officials shows a lipped metal basin beneath the inmate’s chair, as well as a rectangular box just behind it that may be intended to absorb the gunfire.
Immediately afterwards, the witnesses are escorted out of the room and taken to the main building of the correctional facility, where other media are assembled.
Out of sight of witnesses, the inmate’s body is removed from the chamber and taken by the Richland County Coroner’s Office for an autopsy before being returned to the inmate’s family.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/04/23/explainer-how-south-carolina-execution-firing-squad-works/ That’s how a firing squad works in South Carolina