Court halts South Carolina firing squad execution plan

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — South Carolina’s highest court on Wednesday issued a temporary suspension barring the state from carrying out what would become the first-ever firing squad.

The state Supreme Court order temporarily postpones the planned April 29 execution of Richard Bernard Moore, who passed the death sentence for the 1999 murder of store clerk James Mahoney in Spartanburg. The last firing squad execution in the US was in 2010.

The court, when issuing the temporary reprieve, said it would release a more detailed injunction later.

Lawyers for the 57-year-old inmate had asked for a stay, citing pending lawsuits in another court challenging the constitutionality of South Carolina’s execution methods, including the electric chair. Moore’s lawyers also wanted time to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to assess whether Moore’s sentence was commensurate with his crime.

It has been more than ten years since the last firing squad in the US. According to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, the state of Utah has carried out all three such executions in the country since 1976. The most recent was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner faced a five-man squad.

The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011. State officials have attributed a decade-long hiatus in executions to the inability to get lethal injection drugs after the state’s last batch expired in 2013. said.

A 2021 law intended to solve that problem made the electric chair the default method of execution instead of lethal injection, and also codified the firing squad as an alternative option for convicted inmates.

Moore’s execution date was set after corrections officers announced last month that they had completed renovations to the Columbia state death chamber to accommodate the firing squad and also developed new execution protocols.

Although Moore preferred firing squad earlier this month, he maintained in a written statement that he was compelled to make a decision within a time limit set by state law and still found both options unconstitutional.

A state judge has agreed to investigate a legal challenge brought by Moore and three other death row inmates who have largely exhausted their appeals. Their lawyers argue that both electrocution and firing squad are “barbaric” methods of murder. The inmates’ lawyers also want the judge to scrutinize prison officials’ claims that they cannot receive lethal injection drugs, citing executions by that method carried out by other states and the federal government in recent years.

Moore is also separately asking a federal judge to consider whether the firing squad and electric chair are cruel and unusual.

South Carolina is one of eight states that still use the electric chair and one of four — including Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — to allow firing squad, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Moore spent more than two decades on death row after he was convicted in 2001 for the fatal shooting of store clerk James Mahoney. Prosecutors said during his trial that he entered Nikki’s Speedy Mart in Spartanburg in search of money to support his cocaine addiction. He then got into a dispute with Mahoney, who pulled out a gun that Moore wrestled away from him. Mahoney drew a second gun and a gunfight ensued, in which Mahoney shot Moore in the arm and Moore shot Mahoney in the chest.

Moore’s lawyers have said Moore had no intention of killing anyone when he entered the store because he did not have a gun with him.

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