South Carolina court halts first firing-squad execution in U.S. since 2010

South Carolina's firing squad chair in the renovated Capital Punishment Facility in Columbia
·3 min read

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) -South Carolina's Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily halted the execution of a condemned man planned for next week that would have been the first firing-squad execution in the United States in more than a decade.

Richard Moore, 57, was convicted in 2001 of murdering a store clerk in a 1999 robbery. The jury voted to recommend he be sentenced to death.

South Carolina's highest court agreed to Moore's request to stay his execution date, set earlier this month for April 29, because of his ongoing legal challenges to his sentence and to the Southern state's execution methods.

The court's order, which was signed by all five justices, did not state the grounds for the stay, but said "a more detailed order" would soon follow. A spokesperson for the state's Department of Corrections said the department was awaiting the fuller order before commenting.

Several state governments and the federal government have struggled in recent years to obtain lethal-injection drugs, in part because pharmaceutical companies generally forbid the sale of their medicines for use in executions.

As a result, execution officials have had to substitute those specific drugs with more easily obtained ones or revive older execution methods, such as gas asphyxiation or the electric chair. The new or revised execution protocols have drawn an array of legal challenges from people on death rows across the country, bolstered by a number of ghastly "botched" executions by lethal injection.

Moore and other death row inmates who are suing the South Carolina Department of Corrections in a lower-level state court say the execution methods available to them violate the South Carolina constitution, which forbids cruel or unusual punishments. Unlike the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment, the state's constitution explicitly forbids corporal punishment.

South Carolina last carried out an execution in 2011, using lethal injection. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, signed a law in 2021 making electrocution the state's main method of execution, and added a firing squad as an option.

Earlier this month, the Department of Corrections asked Moore to choose either to be killed by electric chair or by a firing squad after telling him that execution officials were unable to secure lethal-injection drugs.

Last week, Moore chose a firing squad, a method that has been used only three times in the United States since 1950, and is viewed by some as a quicker, more painless and less easily botched death, if harder for witnesses to watch.

Those three firing squad executions were all carried out by the state of Utah -- in 1977, 1996 and 2010 -- according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

"I do not believe or concede that either the firing squad or electrocution is legal or constitutional," Moore said in a statement informing the Department of Corrections of his choice. He said that if he refused to make a choice, the department had said it would default to the electric chair.

Lindsey Vann, a lawyer for Moore, said she was glad the state Supreme Court was "allowing for more time" for Moore's cases to be reviewed.

Moore also sought the stay to allow him to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to find the death penalty excessive in his case. His lawyers have argued that because he entered the store unarmed and used the clerk's own gun after grabbing it in a scuffle, that the murder was not premeditated.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)