South Carolina asks people to choose their own method of execution

Having the death penalty is barbaric enough. The extent to which some states in the US go to maintain it is hard to believe. The state of South Carolina, for example, requires the condemned person to actually choose whether they want to be executed by electrocution or by firing squad if lethal injections are not available. These stories read like less of a report of reality and more like the screenplay of an extremely dark film, with a villain gleefully tormenting a captive to make an impossible choice.

A high court in the US state of South Carolina has blocked two executions until the inmates are given the choice of death by electrocution or firing squad.

A new law requires inmates on death row to decide between the two methods if lethal drugs are not available.

But as prison authorities have not yet formed a firing squad, the executions have been halted by the supreme court.

Inmates Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens were due to be executed this month.

The convicted murderers were denied lethal injections – their favoured option – because prison authorities did not have the drugs needed.

A shortage of these drugs has led to a 10-year pause in this method of execution in the state.

The new law, which came into effect last month, was designed to close a loophole that allowed inmates to indefinitely postpone their executions if the drugs were not available.

Given the lack of a firing squad, electrocution was the only method of execution available in the state.

But lawyers for Sigmon and Owens challenged the use of the method in court, arguing their clients have the right to die by lethal injection.

They petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court to stop the planned executions of their clients until their appeals had been heard.

On Wednesday, the court ruled in their favour, saying the inmates had not been given the choice “to elect the manner of their execution”.

It is becoming harder and harder for states to obtain the drugs to execute people by lethal injections because the companies that produce them, fearing damage to their image, are refusing to supply them for this purpose.

Between 1985 and 2011 the state executed more than 40 people, mostly by lethal injection, but in recent years the state (and others) has struggled to get the drugs necessary as manufacturers and distributors have increasingly resisted the use of their drugs to kill people. South Carolina is one of eight states that still allow execution by electric chair and one of four that allows the state to use a firing squad, according to NPR. The last person in the United States to be executed by firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010. 

While a majority of the American public supports the use of the death penalty, that approval has slid to historic lows in recent years as more states have abandoned state-sanctioned murder. In 2020, 55 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said they approved of the death penalty for people convicted of murder, tied with 2017 for the lowest support for the death penalty since 1972.

Unfortunately there seems to be a rise in states that want to continue with the death penalty trying to find new ways of killing people.


  1. anat says

    If anyone complains about dying of old age not being a method of killing I refer them to David Sinclair’s book ‘Lifespan: Why We Age -- and Why We Don’t Have To”, where he argues that what we consider to be ‘normal aging’ should be considered a disease to be cured.

  2. mnb0 says

    “he argues that what we consider to be ‘normal aging’ should be considered a disease to be cured.”
    He could argue that the human disability to fly by flapping our arms is a disease as well.
    Far more relevant is the argument that life long sentences are also barbaric.

  3. Holms says

    But lawyers for Sigmon and Owens challenged the use of the method in court, arguing their clients have the right to die by lethal injection.

    What a strange culture America has. In any sane nation, the argument would be that the clients have the right to live.

  4. garnetstar says

    Well, of course if the victim gets to chose the execution method themselves, the death penalty isn’t immoral and barbaric! And if the methods they have to choose among happen to be all torture--whether firing squad, poison, cynanide gas, electrocution, burning at the stake, or hanging, drawing, and quartering--it’s still humane because the victim gets to choose!

    The last time I heard of someone made to choose their method of execution was the 12th century: Queen Elinor of England supposedly offered her rival The Fair Rosamunde the choice of a dagger or a cup of poison, and Rosamunde chose the latter, and died. That didn’t actually happen, but was widely told to show the immense cruelty of the queen. That was still thought to be brutal and inhumane then, even though the victim got to choose how she’d be murdered.

  5. cartomancer says

    I thought this was going to be about some kind of technical loophole introduced to do away with capital punishment. i.e. if people could only be executed once they had chosen a preferred method, they could postpone it indefinitely through refusal to choose.

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