South Carolina Begins Offering Firing Squad Executions for Death Row Inmates, Now 1 of 4 States

Execution Room
Execution Room

Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty

South Carolina has become the fourth state to allow executions by firing squad as an option for prisoners on death row.

After legislation passed in May 2021 to expand the state's means of execution, the S.C. Department of Corrections announced in a statement Friday that they've completed a $53,600 renovation of their Capital Punishment Facility to allow for firing squad executions.

"The chamber now includes a chair in which inmates will sit if they choose execution by firing squad. The chair is in a corner of the room away from the current electric chair, which cannot be moved," the statement detailed.

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"Bullet-resistant glass has been installed between the witness room and death chamber. The firing squad chair is metal with restraints and is surrounded by protective equipment. The chair faces a wall with a rectangular opening 15 feet away," the statement continued.

The new method calls for three firing squad members, all volunteers from SCDC, to stand behind a wall with their rifles aimed at the inmate through an open portal, which will be obscured from view of the witness room. "A small aimpoint will be placed over his heart by a member of the execution team," according to the statement.

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The legislation (S.C. Code 24-3-530) made the electric chair the state's primary means of execution, while also giving death row prisoners the option of a three-person firing squad or lethal injection, when available.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law on May 14, 2021, after Sen. Dick Harpootlian introduced the firing squad option, arguing the method is "humane" and "the least painful" means of execution.

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That argument has seen pushback from other lawmakers, as well as Justice 360's Lindsey Vann, an attorney for several men on S.C.'s death row. Two inmates awaiting execution filed a lawsuit last year to block SCDC from forcing them to face either the electric chair or a firing squad, according to the Associated Press.

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"These are execution methods that previously were replaced by lethal injection, which is considered more humane, and it makes South Carolina the only state going back to the less humane execution methods," said Vann.

Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah are the other three states currently offering firing squad executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three executions by firing squad have been carried out in the United States since 1977, all in Utah.