Death Row Inmates Plead Not to Be Executed by Electric Chair

Two South Carolina death row inmates have asked an appellate court to halt their planned electrocutions while they appeal their cases.

Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens are scheduled to die in June, in what would be South Carolina's first executions in a decade under the state's recently revamped death penalty law.

Sigmon, 63, was sentenced to death after being convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents with a baseball bat. Owens, 43, was handed a death sentence for the 1997 murder of of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery.

Sigmon's execution in South Carolina's 109-year-old electric chair is scheduled for Friday, followed by Owens' execution a week later on June 25.

This week, the inmates asked the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency injunction to halt the executions during their appeal challenging the use of the electric chair as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

They seek to overturn an order from U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell, who declined to stop the upcoming executions on Friday, June 11.

Sigmon and Owens "will suffer irreparable harm" without an injunction, their attorneys wrote in the filing, according to The Associated Press.

"Any harm the State might suffer from the delay inherent in an expedited appeal pales in comparison to... a torturous death," they added.

But, Harwell wrote that Sigmon and Owens have failed to clearly show that electrocution violates the Eighth Amendment, and cited more than a century's worth of federal court precedent, AP reported.

A judge who is weighing a lawsuit over the state's new death penalty law also declined to halt their executions last week.

Sigmon and Owens' executions were scheduled shortly after South Carolina passed a law aimed at restarting executions, after a decade-long pause attributed to the inability to procure lethal injection drugs.

Electric Chair
FILE - This March 2019, file photo, provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows the state's electric chair in Columbia, S.C. Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections/AP, File

The statute forces those condemned to death to choose between electrocution or a firing squad if the drugs aren't available. Prisons officials have said they still can't acquire the drugs and have not yet assembled a firing squad, meaning both men would die in the electric chair.

Their attorneys have argued that they can't be electrocuted or shot, since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default method of execution.

They also claim that South Carolina officials haven't tried hard enough to obtain lethal injection drugs.

South Carolina's last execution took place in May 2011, and its supply of lethal injection drugs expired two years later, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The state is among eight that still use the electric chair, and the fourth (after Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah) that permits the use of a firing squad.