By Jessica Brodie
United Methodists are among those who gathered at the South Carolina Statehouse in October to speak out against state-mandated executions after news that South Carolina has been able to secure a supply of the lethal injection drug pentobarbital.
Several have signed a petition launched by South Carolinians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a nonprofit with a mission to abolish the death penalty and reform criminal justice in South Carolina.
The petition, which urges Gov. Henry McMaster to halt executions, comes after a brief filed with the South Carolina Supreme Court by Gov. McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Corrections notifying the court they now have pentobarbital and asking for a resumption of executions.
The death penalty is legal in South Carolina, but the state had been unable to purchase the drugs needed to carry out lethal injection executions since their supply expired in 2013. Officials blamed the lack of shield laws for their inability to acquire drugs, as pharmaceutical companies typically do not sell to states that do not conceal their identities.
While South Carolina law specifies lethal injection as the default method of execution, it gives those sentenced the option of choosing death by firing squad or electric chair if those methods are available. All three methods outlined in law are now available to carry out a death sentence, though the firing squad and electric chair methods are being challenged, cited as “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited under the United States Constitution.
Last May, McMaster signed into law new legislation passed by the South Carolina General Assembly concealing the identities of lethal-injection drug suppliers and execution team members. The law also hides the cost of the drugs and the procedures for storing and administering the drugs. Now they have procured the needed drug.
“Justice has been delayed for too long in South Carolina,” McMaster said in his press release Sept. 19. “This filing brings our state one step closer to being able to once again carry out the rule of law and bring grieving families and loved ones the closure they are rightfully owed.”
There are currently 36 prisoners on death row in South Carolina, according to Justice 360 (34 on death row, and two housed off of death row). The state’s last execution, of Jeffrey Motts, was in 2011.
“We believe in the power of dialogue and cooperation among different faiths to make a meaningful impact on our society,” said Rev. Hillary Taylor, a United Methodist and the SCADP executive director.
Taylor called the death penalty “premeditated, state-sponsored murder.”
“By coming together at this interfaith press conference, we hope to send a powerful message to Governor McMaster that there is a growing consensus among South Carolinians against the death penalty, especially among faith leaders.”