South Carolina Executions Blocked Until Firing Squad Is Formed

The South Carolina Supreme Court blocked the scheduled executions of two inmates by electrocution until state officials have formed a firing squad.

The high court on Wednesday ruled that Brad Sigmon, 63, and Freddie Owens, 43, can't be put to death until they actually have the choice of the method of their executions laid out to them under the state's recently revised death-penalty law.

The new legislation, aimed at restarting executions in the state after a decade-long pause, compels condemned inmates to choose between electrocution or a firing squad if lethal injection drugs aren't available.

Prison officials said they still haven't been able to procure lethal injection drugs or to put together a firing squad, leaving the state's 109-year-old electric chair as the only method of execution available.

Sigmon's execution had been scheduled for Friday, with the date for Owens set one week later. But on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court stayed both executions until a firing squad becomes available as an option.

We've updated the @DPIC scheduled executions and outcomes of warrants pages to reflect the stays issued today by the #SouthCarolina Supreme Court to #BradSigmon and #FreddieOwens. https://t.co/tXQFOtFBJGhttps://t.co/CNdqOmMPKR #deathpenalty pic.twitter.com/gCboUwDV6a

— Robert Dunham (@RDunhamDPIC) June 16, 2021

In an unanimous order, the justices wrote that the inmates have a statutory right to elect the manner of their execution.

According to The State, they directed the court clerk not to issue any execution notices until the Department of Corrections finishes developing protocols for the firing squad.

"The department is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad," department spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said in a statement to Newsweek. "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."

Shain did not elaborate on when a firing squad could be up and running.

Attorneys for Sigmon and Owens have argued that the men can't be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default method of execution, and that officials haven't tried hard enough to obtain the drugs.

They have also challenged the use of the electric chair as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, in legal filings.

Sigmon 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 slaying of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery.

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.

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