South Carolina is now prepared to carry out executions by firing squad, the state Department of Corrections told the state Attorney General's office on Friday.
Once approval comes from the state Supreme Court, the death sentences facing the state's 35 death-row inmates can follow.
Law passed in May 2021 makes the electric chair the state’s primary means of execution while giving inmates the option of choosing death by firing squad or lethal injection if those methods are available.
While a lack of lethal-injection drugs has made that alternative unavailable, the state now has procedures and facilities in place for firing squads, the Department of Corrections announced Friday afternoon.
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Without a firing squad available to select their manner of death as their execution dates neared last June, the separate executions of two Greenville men were delayed.
Now one of the two Greenville men could be first in line.
How SC will carry out executions by firing squad
The South Carolina Department of Corrections spent about $53,600 to establish a firing squad and renovate its execution facility, according to Department of Corrections spokesperson Chrysti Shain. That includes a number of rifles — exactly how many was redacted in a response to a records request by The Greenville News — and it includes renovations to the capital-punishment facility, stainless steel sheeting, ammunition and ballistic partitions, according to invoices obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Specifics for how the firing squad will operate must be approved by the state Supreme Court.
The Capital Punishment Facility inside Broad River Correctional Institute in Columbia houses the state death chamber, which has been renovated to accommodate a firing squad.
The chamber now includes a chair where inmates can sit if they choose execution by firing squad. The metal chair with restraints is surrounded by protective equipment in a corner of the room away from the nearly 110-year-old electric chair, which cannot be moved.
The firing-squad chair faces a wall with a rectangular opening 15 feet away. The squad's rifles and the open portal will not be visible from the execution chamber's witness room.
Witnesses will see the right-side profile of the inmate, and the inmate will not face the witness room directly, unlike an inmate choosing execution by the electric chair.
The inmate will be strapped into the chair, and a hood will be placed over their head. A small aim point will be placed over their heart, and after the warden reads the execution order, the firing squad will fire.
After the shots, a doctor will examine the inmate. Once the inmate is declared dead, the curtain will be drawn and witnesses escorted out.
SC's firing squad differs from Utah's
Utah is the only state in the past 40 years to carry out such a death sentence. The most recent was in 2010 for Ronnie Lee Gardner, who killed a bartender and later, during a 1985 courthouse escape attempt, shot a lawyer to death and wounded a bailiff.
While officials from the Department of Corrections visited Utah before establishing their own firing-squad system, South Carolina's procedures differ from Utah's.
Unlike Utah, which uses a five-member firing squad, South Carolina will have three law-enforcement officers in its firing squad, and all three will have live rounds, while in Utah at least one rifle fires non-lethal bullets.
Members of South Carolina's firing squad are volunteers from within the state Department of Corrections who meet certain qualifications, according to the department.
Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens wait death sentences in South Carolina
Once the state Supreme Court approves the state's new firing-squad policies, Greenville natives Brad Keith Sigmon and Freddie Eugene Owens are likely to be among the first inmates to have death sentences carried out.
The state Supreme Court issued warrants for their deaths in May 2021.
Sigmon and Owens had execution dates set for June 18, 2021, and June 25, 2021, respectively. Those execution orders were halted June 16, 2021, when the Department of Corrections notified the court that a firing squad was not yet in place.
Sigmon was sentenced to death in 2002 after being found guilty of murder in the 2001 killings of David and Gladys Larke.
Owens was sentenced to death in 1999 after being found guilty of murder in the 1997 killing of Irene Graves, and he's confessed to killing fellow inmate Christopher Lee. In 2015, Owens legally changed his name to Khalil Divine Black Sun Allah, but the state judicial system still identifies him as Owens to provide clarity.
What we know: Death penalty case of Greenville County's Brad Sigmon
What we know: Death penalty case of Greenville County's Freddie Owens
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: SC death penalty: State prepared to use a firing squad for executions