A superior court of the state of South Carolina He suspended two executions on Wednesday until prisoners have the option to choose between being killed by electrocution or by firing squad.
A new law requires prisoners sentenced to death to choose between the two methods if drugs for lethal injections are not available.
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But as the prison authorities have not yet formed a firing squad, the court stopped the executions.
Inmates Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens were to be executed this month.
Sigmon, 63, was due to be executed on Friday. He has spent nearly two decades on death row after being convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend’s parents with a baseball bat.
Owens’s execution was scheduled for June 25. The 43-year-old has been on and off death row since 1999, when he was convicted of murdering a store worker during a wave of robberies.
Lack of lethal injections
The convicted killers were denied lethal injections, the option they both preferred, because prison authorities did not have the necessary medications.
The shortage of these drugs has caused a 10-year hiatus in this method of execution in the state.
The new law, which took effect in May, was designed to fill a loophole that allowed prisoners to postpone their executions indefinitely if 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 contested the use of this method, arguing that their clients have the right to die by lethal injection.
They asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to halt the planned executions of their clients until their appeals had been heard.
On Wednesday, the court ruled in their favor, saying that the prisoners had not been given the option to “choose the manner of execution”.
The court said no further executions should be scheduled until “protocols and policies for carrying out executions by firing squad” are in place.
In response to the court order, South Carolina prison authorities said they were “making progress in creating policies and procedures for a firing squad.”
“We are seeking guidance in other states for this process. We will notify the court when firing squad becomes an option for executions, ”said the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
South Carolina is one of four states that allow firing squad executions along with Oklahoma, Mississippi y Utah.
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