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South Carolina death row inmate protests ‘secrecy’ surrounding his Dec. 4 execution, seeks stay

An inmate on South Carolina’s death row is protesting what he calls “secrecy” surrounding his looming December execution and wants a stay.

In papers filed with the S.C. Supreme Court, inmate Richard Moore, 55, says that “without a stay of execution, SCDC (SC Department of Corrections) will be allowed to operate in near-total secrecy as it prepares for and carries out Moore’s execution in less than three weeks.”

Moore wants to know what kind of chemicals Corrections intends to use, but the department won’t tell him, according to his court filings.

“No other state in the country has executed someone under such an extreme veil of secrecy,” Miller’s filings said.

The Department of Corrections told The State newspaper Wednesday that it has not been able to obtain the drugs used in lethal injection deaths. That has been the department’s situation for years, and it has been nearly 10 years since South Carolina executed an inmate.

On Wednesday, spokesmen for S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Corrections Chief Bryan Stirling said they don’t think the state can go through with an electric chair execution if the inmate chooses lethal injection, and if the state has been unable to obtain the drugs.

However, Corrections is still attempting to obtain the drugs necessary for lethal injection, so no one can say with certainty whether the execution will proceed as scheduled.

It is now set for Dec. 4.

Apart from the alleged secrecy, Moore’s challenge to his execution brings up an uncomfortable fact in the world of current S.C. death penalty law: that a condemned person has a kind of veto power over whether he will be executed or not.

That’s because the law as written gives an inmate the choice of whether to die by electrocution or by lethal injection. But if the department is unable to obtain drugs for the execution, the department cannot force an inmate to die by electrocution.

In recent years, both McMaster and Stirling have tried to get the law changed so that, if lethal injection was not an option for one reason or another, the state would have the power to carry out an electrocution. A bill that would have given the state power to carry out an electrocution if the inmate wanted to die by lethal injection — but the drugs were not available — passed the Senate but not the House.

A Corrections spokesperson said Wednesday that the reason South Carolina does not have the execution drugs is pharmaceutical companies won’t sell the drugs to South Carolina “until our state law is changed to shield their identities from anti-death penalty activists, who have been very effective in chilling the sale of drugs to departments of corrections across the country.”

Fourteen states have shield laws that protect company identities in order to carry out death penalty orders, said Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain. “The department has not had execution drugs since 2013, when our last drugs expired. Also, drugs the department obtained from another country were seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2011.”

Under current Corrections police, the drugs the department wants to use in a lethal injection execution are pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

The execution is scheduled for Dec. 4. If carried out, it would be the first one in South Carolina since 2011. There are currently 37 people on the state’s death row, all men.

Moore says he has the right under S.C. law to choose between lethal injection and the electric chair, as well as a “constitutional right to be executed in a manner that is not cruel and unusual,” according to his filings.

But the Corrections Department’s refusal to give him information about what kind of drugs it intends to use to execute him means that he cannot make “an informed decision between the two execution methods” or a determination of whether execution by those protocols pose “a substantial risk of severe pain” in violation of the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments).

A statement by Moore’s lawyers, Lindsey Vann and John Blume, said, “On December 4, 2020, South Carolina is set to carry out its first execution in nearly a decade under an unprecedented veil of secrecy in the midst of a global pandemic. The South Carolina Department of Corrections refuses to release any information about how it intends to carry out the execution — from the type and source of lethal injection drugs to the status and testing of the electric chair — creating the risk of a torturous execution with no oversight. Other states, including Texas and Tennessee, have delayed executions during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid the unnecessary risk of spreading the deadly disease through the many people required to be involved in and witness to an execution. South Carolina should not carry out an execution until these risks are addressed.”

Moore has been on death row for 19 years. In 2001, he was sentenced to death for killing a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery.

The S.C. Supreme Court has set no date for a hearing.

Source: charlotteobserver.com, John Monk, November 18, 2020

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