South Carolina (WBTV) - The South Carolina State Senate passed a bill that would change the default penalty of death to be done by electrocution.
The bill stems from a lack being able to get the drug used for lethal injection. Death row inmates can choose whether they want to die by lethal injection or electrocution, but under this bill if the drug is not available or if they refrain from choosing which method they prefer, they will be killed by electrocution.
The bill passed through the Senate on Wednesday and was introduced to the House. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee. For more information about the bill click here.
Under current state law, if a person was sentenced to death prior to June 8, 1995, and they waive their right to decide which form of execution they prefer, the method used will be electrocution. If the person was sentenced to death on or after June 8, 1995, and they waive their right to decide which form of execution they prefer, the method used will be lethal injection.
According to the Department of Corrections in South Carolina, there are 36 inmates on death row. Two of those inmates who were sentenced to death are from York County cases.
Mar-Reece Hughes was convicted in 1995 of killing York County Deputy Brent McCants. James D. Robertson was convicted of murdering his parents in 1999. Prosecutors say Robertson was motivated by inheritance money. Both are awaiting execution, as they have filed for post-conviction relief and their appeals are pending.
No one has been executed in South Carolina since 2011. According to the legislature, there's been a standstill because of the Department of Corrections' inability to get the drug needed for lethal injection.
"In Senate committee hearings, the Department testified to the inability to obtain the drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection – due to public pressure on the companies which sell the drugs to the state," Communications Director of the Senate Majority Reagan C. Kelley said in a press release.
Solicitor of South Carolina's 16th Judicial District Kevin Brackett says it is one way the state can move past the standstill of executions.
"Whether we switch or whether we pass a law that allows for anonymity for drug companies that sell lethal injection drugs to South Carolina, either method would work. We just need to do something to get past this roadblock," Solicitor Brackett said.
Still, he says this is just one of many roadblocks preventing the execution process from going faster. Even if this legislation was passed, it still would not expedite the cases of Robertson and Hughes.
"They are still in appeals, so there are a number of things that frustrate victims in these cases; the length of time of the appellate process is just as painful," Brackett said.
Because of the lengthy process, Brackett says he does not avoid pursuing it in cases, but he does warn the victims' families what they would endure before they decide whether they want him to pursue capital punishment.
"What I do is make sure the victims' families understand what is involved in a capital punishment process," Brackett said. "The imposition on the family, what they can expect over the next 10, 15, 20 years or beyond of when they might actually see an execution at some point."
Senator Wes Climber (R-District 15) is one of the lawmakers who supported the bill. He says the challenge in passing the bill into law will likely be due to those who do not believe the state should impose the death penalty at all.
"They are opposed to any mechanism that would allow the state to impose the death penalty," Sen. Climber said.
He says without the death penalty, a ripple effect of less severe sentences would be felt across the entire state judicial system.
"If we did not have the death penalty, it would be harder to get criminals to plead to life without parole," Climber said. "If life without parole is the harshest penalty that you have a lot of criminals who should get life without parole would plead down to lesser penalties."