SC lethal injections on hold as toxic serums expire; bill seeks bargaining tool for procurement

SC lethal injections on hold as toxic serums expire; bill seeks bargaining tool for procurement

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina's supply of lethal injection drugs has expired, and the Department of Corrections is having trouble buying more. But a proposed bill sitting in the General Assembly could change that, though not everyone is on board with the way lawmakers want to go about it.

State law says an inmate must be put to death by lethal injection. However, he or she can choose the electric chair instead, an unlikely scenario.

Authorities with the Department of Corrections say their hands are tied. They say they can't do their job because the drugs they use have expired, and they say the companies they've pursued to replenish their stock won't sell to them to put someone to death.

According to numbers compiled by Justice 360, a South Carolina based non-profit that tracks capital cases, only 14 of SC's counties have sentenced a defendant to death in the last decade.

One of those counties is Horry County, with three during the years between 2006 and 2015. The latest from our area is Luzenski Cottrell. He was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a Myrtle Beach police officer in 2002.

"I would definitely hope that by the time his appeals process is up he gets what he's earned," Horry County Solicitor Jimmy Richardson said.

But that may not happen, because right now, the state's supply of the deadly cocktail of drugs used in lethal injections has run out, and the companies that would supply new product are refusing to sell to the Department of Corrections.

"Once they find out we're the Department of Corrections, they stop talking to us. The conversation basically ends," DOC Director Bryan Stirling said.

He hopes a bill in the General Assembly that would keep the identities and information of pharmaceutical companies or compounding pharmacies a secret could be used as a bargaining tool.

"The court gives an order and all appeals have been dropped or finalized, I as the Director of Corrections have four Fridays from the time that order is issued to carry out the court's order of the death penalty, or executions," Stirling said. "We would not be able to do that in the current state we are in."

It's not a guarantee that even with the proposed legislation, a company would sell.

Opponents say there's no need to rush the process of figuring out a new source for drugs.

"There are no executions on hold in the state of South Carolina. The DOC, the Attorney General's Office and also the Penology Committee in the state Senate has really spun a web that we can't do any executions in South Carolina and we have pending executions that can't take place. That is not true," said Executive Director of Justice 360 Mandy Medlock.

She believes this bill could open a window for the government to abuse its power.

"Everything about the procurement of the lethal injection serum would be a secret, so that means where it's purchased, from how it's manufactured, how much it costs...essentially everything," Medlock said.

She said Justice 360 has heard from companies that being involved in the process of lethal injection is just not what they stand for.

"Companies in the United States want to be life-saving pharmaceutical companies," Medlock said. "They want to offer drugs that help people and not kill people."

Stirling said that since taking on the position of Director with the DOC three years ago, he has not received any orders to execute an inmate.

He said there are currently 42 inmates on South Carolina's death row, in various stages of appeal.

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