2 Death Row Inmates Are Facing a Horrible Choice: Being Shot or Electrocuted

The state passed a law last month allowing executions by firing squad, but they haven’t actually assembled one yet.
June 17, 2021, 5:52pm
​Left: Feb. 6, 2014, photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows Brad Sigmon.​ Right: Oct. 12, 2017, photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows Freddie Owens.
Left: Feb. 6, 2014, photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows Brad Sigmon. Right: Oct. 12, 2017, photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows Freddie Owens.

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South Carolina’s Supreme Court moved Wednesday to temporarily halt the executions of two death row inmates—but only until they have an actual choice of how they want to be killed.

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Last month, South Carolina passed a new law that requires death row inmates to choose between the electric chair and a firing squad, legislation brought forward in order to restart executions for the first time in 10 years, after the state ran into difficulties obtaining the drugs necessary to kill people. 

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court delayed the execution of Freddie Owens and Brad Sigmon, two death row inmates. Sigmon, 63, was convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents, and was scheduled to be put to death on Friday. Owens, a 43-year-old who was convicted in the 1997 shooting death of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery, was set to be executed on June 25. 

Owens’ and Sigmon’s attorneys argued that they would “suffer irreparable harm” from being forced into an electric chair, according to legal filings obtained by the AP

“Any harm the State might suffer from the delay inherent in an expedited appeal pales in comparison to...a torturous death,” the lawyers said, according to the AP. 

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday that the executions would be temporarily delayed “due to the statutory right of inmates to elect the manner of their execution.” The South Carolina Department of Corrections is currently “moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad,” Chrysti Shain, a spokesperson for the SCDC told the AP. 

“We are looking to other states for guidance through this process,” Shain said. “We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions.”

Between 1985 and 2011 the state executed more than 40 people, mostly by lethal injection, but in recent years the state (and others) has struggled to get the drugs necessary as manufacturers and distributors have increasingly resisted the use of their drugs to kill people. South Carolina is one of eight states that still allow execution by electric chair and one of four that allows the state to use a firing squad, according to NPR. The last person in the United States to be executed by firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010


While a majority of the American public supports the use of the death penalty, that approval has slid to historic lows in recent years as more states have abandoned state-sanctioned murder. In 2020, 55 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said they approved of the death penalty for people convicted of murder, tied with 2017 for the lowest support for the death penalty since 1972.