SC lawmaker to introduce shield law to allow state to resume executions

Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2022 at 7:48 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A South Carolina senator says he plans to introduce legislation that would allow the state to resume executions by lethal injection.

The announcement, by Republican Sen. Greg Hembree, came after a judge blocked the state’s other two methods of execution, the electric chair and firing squad, deeming them unconstitutional.

Last year, Hembree introduced the bill that revived the firing squad and made the electric chair the default method of execution.

“The death penalty’s a gruesome thing, any way you slice it. It’s just gruesome. I guess there’s maybe some level of dignity for the defendant, for the killer, in that he or she can select A, B, or C,” Hembree said.

South Carolina’s supply of drugs for lethal injection expired in 2013, the Department of Corrections said.

Director Bryan Stirling has repeatedly said the department has tried and failed to obtain the new drugs, saying pharmaceutical manufacturers have told him they won’t sell to South Carolina for the purpose of lethal injections if their identities could be revealed.

A shield law would protect the identities of drug manufacturers from being disclosed, which might allow the state to procure those drugs and resume lethal injection.

Without those drugs available, executions in the state are on hold after the judge’s ruling, although that ruling is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“If the Supreme Court rules that the firing and the electric chair are unconstitutional, then I think there’s a lot more incentive to push the shield law because that’s our only option really that’s left,” Hembree said.

The nonprofit “Justice Three-Sixty” brought about that lawsuit on behalf of a group of death-row inmates.

The organization has said in the past it opposes a shield law, saying that measure would cloud the transparency and accountability the state should have when carrying out executions.

Both Stirling and Gov. Henry McMaster have voiced their support for a shield law in the past. McMaster challenged lawmakers to pass a shield law in his 2021 State of the State Address.

“We have no means to carry out a death sentence in South Carolina, and the murderers know it,” he said during the January 2021 speech. “Fourteen states have enacted such a shield law. Director Bryan Stirling and I have been asking the General Assembly to fix this for years. Legislation was almost approved on the final day last year. I ask the General Assembly: fix this. Give these grieving families and loved ones the justice and closure they are owed by law.”