Lawsuit filed by SC death row inmates claiming inhumane treatment could go to jury in January

Lawsuit filed by SC death row inmates claiming inhumane treatment could go to jury in January
Source: Raycom Media

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Jury selection could begin in January in a federal lawsuit filed by South Carolina death row inmates who claim "cruel and baseless solitary confinement."

A federal court calendar states the jury selection deadline for the lawsuit is Jan. 17, 2019. That schedule is subject to change.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court's Columbia division on Dec. 7, 2017.

Attorneys representing the inmates say in the lawsuit they have been isolated in solitary confinement for between nine and 20 years.

"Plaintiffs are subjected to indefinite extreme isolation, devoid of mental stimulation, and have only sporadic human interaction," the lawsuit stated. "They are confined for up to twenty-four hours a day to small, windowless cells that measure approximately 10 feet by 10 feet. Plaintiffs are only permitted to leave their cell for rare instances of individual recreation in small outdoor cages, only partially open to the sky, and for periodic legal or family visits and medical treatment."

The lawsuit claims there is no "legitimate or valid penological reason" to keep the inmates in solitary confinement based exclusively on their sentence.

Attorney Brian Richichi, of the Washington, D.C.-based Hogan Lovells US LLP, said via email that isolating prisoners in this manner is cruel and unusual, and "serves no purpose other than to dehumanize them."

"And to those who might express a lack of sympathy for those on Death Row, I would say that intentionally dehumanizing others to satisfy our own desire for revenge does not serve us well as a society—it only erodes our own humanity," Richichi said in an emailed statement. "This lawsuit is not about what the Plaintiffs did before they were sentenced to Death Row, but about how they are treated now that they are in custody."

Online records from the S.C. Department of Corrections list 36 death row inmates as of Tuesday.

Of the 18 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, four of them are death row inmates from either the Grand Strand or the Pee Dee.

James Bryant III was sentenced to death in 2001 for killing Horry County Police Cpl. Dennis Lyden in the line of duty in June 2000, according to court records.

Luzenski Cottrell was convicted of killing Myrtle Beach Police Ofc. Joe McGarry in 2002. According to the lawsuit, he was first sentenced to death in 2005.

Juries have twice sentenced Stephen Stanko to death, with the first coming in 2006 for the murder of his live-in girlfriend in Georgetown. The second was in 2009 for the killing of 74-year-old Henry Turner of Conway.

In 2008, Horry County man Louis Winkler, Jr. was sentenced to die for the early 2006 murder of his estranged wife, Rebecca Grainger Winkler.

Winkler's death sentence was overturned in 2012 and converted to life in prison. However, the S.C. Department of Corrections had him listed on the death row inmates list as of Tuesday.

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