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State court blocks pair of scheduled executions in South Carolina

FILE -  This March 2019, file photo, provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections...
FILE - This March 2019, file photo, provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows the state's electric chair in Columbia, S.C. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law last week a bill that would essentially restart the state's stalled death penalty after a lack of lethal injection drugs has delayed several executions. The new law would let condemned inmates choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad. (Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP, File)(Kinard Lisbon | AP)
Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 11:04 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF/AP) – The South Carolina Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked two executions that had been set for this month under the state’s recently revised capital punishment law.

The high court halted the planned executions of inmates Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens.

Owens was sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of Irene Graves on Halloween night in 1997.

Sigmon was convicted in 2002 of beating the parents of his estranged girlfriend to death with a baseball bat.

The executions had been scheduled less than a month after the passage of a new law compelling the condemned to choose between electrocution or a firing squad if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. The statute is aimed at restarting executions after an involuntary 10-year pause that the state attributes to an inability to procure the drugs.

Prison officials say they still can’t get ahold of lethal injection drugs and have yet to put together a firing squad, leaving the state’s 109-year-old electric chair as the only method of execution.

Attorneys for the two men had argued that death by electrocution is cruel and unusual, saying the new law moves the state toward less humane execution methods. They have also said the men have the right to die by lethal injection and the state hasn’t exhausted all methods to procure lethal injection drugs.

Lawyers for the state have maintained that prison officials are simply carrying out the law, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has never found electrocution to be unconstitutional.

Anti-death penalty advocates gathered in Columbia to protest before the decision from the high court was delivered Wednesday.

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