Executing Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens by electrocution later this month would cause the men to “suffocate to death while being cooked by the current,” attorney Gerald King argued Wednesday before US District Judge Bryan Harwell.
The executions were scheduled less than a month after the passage of a new law that forces convicts to choose between electrocution or a firing squad if lethal injection drugs are not available. The statute aims to restart executions in the state after an involuntary 10-year hiatus that officials attribute to the inability to purchase the drugs.
The South Carolina Supreme Court set Sigmon’s execution for June 18 after prison officials indicated that the state’s electric chair is ready for use. He has been on death row since his 2002 conviction for a double murder. Owens, who has been on and off death row since 1999 for the murder of a convenience store employee, is scheduled to die a week later, on June 25.
Prison officials have indicated that they are still unable to procure lethal injection drugs and have yet to assemble a firing squad, meaning that Sigmon and Owens would die in the state’s 109-year-old electric chair.
The prisoners’ attorneys argued in court documents that dying by electrocution subjects men “to substantial risk of excruciating pain, terror and some bodily mutilation that contravenes evolving standards of decency, offends basic principles of human dignity, and violates … Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments. ”
South Carolina authorities have also not exhausted all methods to secure lethal injection drugs, lawyers said, pointing to recent executions in other states and by federal prison officials.
Governor’s attorneys. Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Corrections responded Wednesday that prison officials have tried in good faith to obtain the drugs after the legislature failed to pass a protection law that obscures the identities of drug manufacturers. They said the corrections agency has received multiple rejection letters from pharmaceutical companies and was unable to purchase the drugs from federal correctional officials. Capitalization pharmacies will not do this either, because state law requires a prescription.
“I am not aware of any physician who, without violating the Hippocratic Oath, wrote a prescription for this,” said Daniel Plyler, representing the state.
In court documents, attorneys for McMaster and the Department of Corrections wrote that Sigmon’s other attempts to stop his execution had already been denied in various courts. They argued that his “latest lawsuit is no reason to stop Sigmon’s scheduled execution” and is a duplication of his lawsuit in state circuit court.
Attorneys for the state also said the U.S. Supreme Court has said courts should avoid the scientific questions behind which punishments are more painful than others, as a growing body of evidence suggests that some of the drugs administered during lethal injections they could inflict torturous pain while being a paralyzing agent. hides the suffering.
The federal court hearing comes a day after a state judge refused to stop the executions pending a separate lawsuit over the revised capital punishment statute. In that case, the inmates’ lawyers argue that they cannot be shot or electrocuted because they were sentenced under the old law that made lethal injection the default method.
The judge gave few indications Wednesday about how or when he would rule. “I understand the seriousness of the matter,” Harwell said.
Sigmon and Owens are also seeking pardons from the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Both men have exhausted their traditional appeals in recent months, prompting the state Supreme Court to establish and then stay their executions earlier this year, before the law’s passage, after the prison agency acknowledged that it did not he could get the necessary lethal injection drugs.