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The chair or a firing squad? South Carolina inmate makes choice ahead of April execution


Chiara Eisner

The State (Columbia, S.C.)

The South Carolina Supreme Court on Thursday issued an execution notice for Richard Moore that set his execution date for four weeks from April 7. If Moore, 57, is executed in a month on April 29, he will be the first person executed by the state of South Carolina since 2011.

How he would die is still uncertain. By state law, Moore must choose his method of execution 14 days before his execution date.

The state no longer has the drugs needed to kill people with lethal injection, which was the primary execution method when Moore was sentenced to death after he was convicted of murder, assault with intent to kill, armed robbery and a firearms violation in 2001 in Spartanburg County.

The state can currently kill people with the state’s 110-year-old electric chair or the firing squad, a method that the South Carolina Department of Corrections announced was ready March 18.

But the constitution of South Carolina states that punishments that are cruel, corporal or unusual cannot be inflicted. Legal challenges that question the constitutionality of both the chair and the squad are currently pending.

The electric chair, in use in South Carolina since 1912, has been declared unconstitutional by other states, including Georgia and Nebraska. To date, Utah is the only state in the U.S. that has executed someone with a firing squad.

The execution notice for Moore comes after four of the five S.C. Supreme Court justices upheld Moore’s death sentence Wednesday. Associate Justice Kaye Hearn disagreed to do the same for the first time in her career, stating that she did not believe Moore’s crime merited a death sentence.

“The death penalty should be reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes in our society, and I do not believe Moore’s crimes rise to that level,” she wrote in her dissent.

On Sept. 16, 1999, Moore entered a Spartanburg County convenience store without a gun to try to rob the business. After the clerk, James Mahoney, pulled out his own gun to stop Moore, the two started fighting. The gun was fired in the scuffle and killed Mahoney.

As Moore left, he shot at a bystander, missed, then was involved in a traffic accident. When police arrived on the scene, Moore, who is Black, did not resist arrest. He has been on death row for 21 years.

Executions were determined to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, owing to the arbitrary and racist way in which the death penalty had been used.

Executions conducted in South Carolina were no exception. More than 20 teenagers in South Carolina have been executed. All of them were Black. The youngest of them was George Stinney Jr., who was 14 at the time of his death. It was later determined that Stinney’s trial had been unfair and his conviction was overturned posthumously.

The death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Forty-three people have been executed in South Carolina since then.

Last year, The State published a series of stories that revealed that the closer South Carolina execution workers were to the act of killing, the more mental and physical pain they experienced.

The series also reported an unprecedented level of secrecy around the current execution practices of the Department of Corrections. Though execution teams in South Carolina have historically consisted of fewer than 10 people, last year, more than 100 were made to sign repressive confidentiality agreements that restricted their ability to talk about executions with people beyond that group.


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