South Carolina Pushes to Bring Back Electric Chair, Resume Executions After 10-Year Hiatus

South Carolina is moving a step closer to bringing back the electric chair as it seeks to resume executions in the state after a decade.

Under state law, executions in South Carolina must be carried out by lethal injection unless an inmate chooses electrocution.

However, South Carolina's supply of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Corrections officials say they have been unable to procure any since then. The state's last execution was the May 2011 death of Jeffrey Motts. In the 10 years before that, South Carolina had put to death 17 inmates.

Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, has urged the state's lawmakers to find a way to restart executions.

"The Department of Corrections has been unable to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection since 2015 because the companies which make the drugs will not sell them unless their identities are shielded by state law from anti-death penalty activists," said McMaster in his State of the State address last month.

"We have no means to carry out a death sentence in South Carolina—and the murderers know it."

Stock photo of prison cells
Stock photo of prison cells. South Carolina is pushing to make electrocution the default execution method. Getty

He added: "I ask the General Assembly: fix this. Give these grieving families and loved ones the justice and closure they are owed by law."

In an attempt to do so, the Judiciary Committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 14-7 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would make electrocution the default execution method, reported The State newspaper.

That bill will now go to the House floor for a debate. A similar bill is on the calendar for the South Carolina Senate, but has not been discussed yet, according to the Columbia-based newspaper.

Supporters of the bill argued that it would ensure the state was able to carry out death sentences, reported The State.

"This bill is not about the merits about whether we should or shouldn't have capital punishment," said South Carolina Rep. Weston Newton, a Republican. "It is about whether we can carry out lawful [sentence]."

Another Republican state representative, Micah Caskey, said the death sentence "exists for the guilty."

But Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Democrat, pointed to the case of George Stinney to demonstrate that innocent people had been put to death in the state.

Stinney, a 14-year-old Black boy, was executed in 1944 after being convicted of killing two white girls. He was exonerated 70 years later.

Another opponent of the bill, Republican Neal Collins, highlighted the racial inequity on South Carolina's death row—pointing out that just over half the 37 inmates are Black, when Black people make up only around a quarter of the state's population.

South Carolina's push to bring back the electric chair is in stark contrast to Virginia, where lawmakers passed a bill on Monday abolishing the death penalty.

A report from the Death Penalty Information Center last December said death sentences had dropped to historic lows in 2020, even as the federal government ramped up executions in the final months of Donald Trump's presidency.