Spartanburg's Richard Moore elects firing squad for scheduled April 29 execution

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Spartanburg's Richard Moore has selected the firing squad as the method for his execution scheduled in two weeks.

If Moore’s execution is carried out on April 29, it will be the state’s first execution since 2011 and the first carried out by the newly established firing squad.

In a statement to the South Carolina Supreme Court regarding his election, Moore wrote:

"I do not believe or concede that either the firing squad or electrocution is legal or constitutional. I do not believe the Department should be allowed to certify that a statutorily prescribed method, such as lethal injection, is unavailable without demonstrating a good faith effort to make it available. However, I more strongly oppose death by electrocution. Because the Department says I must choose between firing squad or electrocution or be executed by electrocution I will elect firing squad."

This Aug. 17, 2018, photo provided by Justice 360 shows death row inmate Richard Moore at Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center in Columbia, S.C. Moore was sentenced to death in the 1999 fatal shooting of James Mahoney, a convenience store clerk in Spartanburg County, S.C.
This Aug. 17, 2018, photo provided by Justice 360 shows death row inmate Richard Moore at Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center in Columbia, S.C. Moore was sentenced to death in the 1999 fatal shooting of James Mahoney, a convenience store clerk in Spartanburg County, S.C.

Last week, attorneys representing Moore filed a petition with the South Carolina Supreme Court to stay his execution while they proceed with litigation that challenges the legality of the state’s death penalty after it was amended in 2021.

On Thursday they also filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf stating that execution by electrocution or firing squad violates the Eighth Amendment.

What we know: Death penalty case of Spartanburg County's Richard Moore

Read more: Judge denies motion to dismiss civil case for SC death penalty inmates

Moore was sentenced to death on October 22, 2001, after he was convicted for the murder of James Mahoney, 42, at Nikki’s Speedy Mart in Spartanburg on Sept. 16, 1999. At this stage, Moore has exhausted all avenues for an appeal for his case in the state courts.

Attorneys filed for relief on Moore’s behalf to the state Supreme Court on the basis that a death sentence was disproportionate to his crime. The relief was denied despite a 14-page dissent from Justice Kaye G. Hearn. In her dissent, she wrote the state’s system was broken.

Hearn wrote that “by improperly focusing on whether the crime committed by Moore meets the legal definition of armed robbery, the majority completely loses sight of the vast difference between a ‘robbery gone bad’ and a planned and premeditated murder.”

“In the nearly thirteen years I have served on this Court, I have voted to affirm eleven death sentences on direct appeal and have never dissented,” she wrote.

Could challenges to state’s death penalty lead to another stay?

In May 2021 McMaster signed a bill that amended the state’s death penalty statute to make electrocution the primary method of execution and added the firing squad as a third option. The amendment made South Carolina the only state to make execution by electrocution the default and the fourth to add a firing squad option, along with Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The statute remains that lethal injection is an option but added: “if it’s available at the time of election.” South Carolina has been unable to obtain drugs needed to carry out executions by lethal injection since 2013 when its last supply expired.

On Thursday, South Carolina Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman denied a motion to dismiss a state lawsuit against SCDC and Gov. Henry McMaster challenging whether the amendments to the state’s death penalty statute last year are constitutional.

The lawsuit was initially filed on behalf of Freddie Eugene Owens and Brad Keith Sigmon in May 2021, but then was amended and added Moore and Gary Dubose Terry, sentenced in Lexington, on April 11.

"I think that to grant a motion to dismiss, and dismiss the case at this juncture, would be inappropriate," said Judge Newman following her decision. "This is an issue that has never been decided by a South Carolina court, and for me to dismiss this matter at this time would be to tell Mr. Owens, Mr. Sigmon, Mr. Moore and Mr. Terry, that you're not entitled for a court to decide it."

The lawsuit alleges that the only available methods of execution – firing squad or electrocution – are unconstitutional and seek an order declaring those methods a violation of the state’s constitution that protects against cruel, corporal and unusual punishment.

South Carolina is currently the only state to have electrocution as the default execution method. Two states, Nebraska and Georgia, have declared death by electric chair tortuous and unconstitutional.

Death by firing squad has only occurred three times since the death penalty was reinstated nationally in 1976.

“In the pre-modern and modern eras of capital punishment in this country, the firing squad has virtually disappeared. It has only been used 34 times since 1900, making up less than half of one percent of all American executions in the past 120 years,” attorneys for the men wrote in their complaint.

The lawsuit also seeks to thoroughly investigate what exactly SCDC is doing to obtain drugs for the method of lethal injection.

In an affidavit regarding Moore’s selection on Friday, SCDC’s director, Bryan Stirling, wrote that “despite diligent efforts” the department was not able to obtain drugs for execution by lethal injection.

“The Department's efforts have included contacting manufacturers, all of which have refused to sell the drugs to the Department. The Department has also contacted various compounding pharmacists regarding compounding the drugs for the Department, but those efforts have also been unsuccessful. Additionally, the Department has attempted to purchase the bulk components for the drugs and have them compounded, and those efforts have likewise proven unsuccessful,” Stirling wrote.

Attorneys argued Thursday that "since 2013, when SCDC said that they couldn't get the drugs there have been 222 executions" carried out across the country including by the federal government with "seemingly little impediment."

“If no effort has been made to get these drugs, then that's not unavailable,” said attorney Josh Kendrick on Thursday. Now that a motion has been denied to dismiss the lawsuit, discovery can begin to examine the steps SCDC is taking to obtain drugs for lethal injection.

While the state lawsuit does not directly impact Moore’s execution date, attorneys say it could influence the Supreme Court’s decision to stay his execution until the challenge to the death penalty statute is fully tried.

“There's a stay motion pending in the South Carolina Supreme Court asking them to stay the execution so that this litigation can go forward,” said Lindsey Vann, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “This may impact their decision on that, but this doesn't directly impact that date for the 29th.”

Kathryn Casteel is an investigative reporter with The Greenville News and can be reached at KCasteel@gannett.com or on Twitter @kathryncasteel.

This article originally appeared on Herald-Journal: Richard Moore SC: Firing squad chosen for death penalty case