South Carolina execution delayed due to lack of drugs

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)– South Carolina prison officials delayed the execution of a convicted killer because they don’t have the drugs needed to carry out the lethal injection.

The Palmetto State has not had the drugs in stock since 2013.

“I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through and what they’re going through,” said the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections Bryan Stirling.

Richard Moore was scheduled to die by lethal injection on Friday. He has been on death row for nearly two decades after being convicted of the 1999 shooting and killing of a gas station clerk in Spartanburg County. Moore is one of dozens of inmates who will continue to sit on death row. Condemned inmates can choose to die by electric chair or lethal injection in South Carolina. If an inmate waives that right, the sentence by law has to be carried out by lethal injection.

But lethal injection is on life support across the country as drug makers and pharmacists refuse to sell states the medication necessary to carry out the sentence.   

“Moore’s lawyers are pleased the execution was stayed,” his attorney Lindsey Vann with Justice 360 said in a statement, “but will continue their attempts to obtain information about how the State plans to execute him.”

Stirling isn’t surprised by Friday’s execution delay. He’s been warning about it for years.

“I feel like my role is to carry out a lawful order…a fully appealed court order,” said Stirling. “And when we couldn’t do that my only role is to tell the legislature, ‘We can’t carry out what y’all have passed. And I did that.”

In a letter to Moore’s attorney last week, the SCDC confirmed it “will not be able to obtain the required drugs prior to December 4, 2020, and therefore the…execution will have to be delayed.”

The state’s lethal injection protocol calls for three drugs: pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.

Thirty one jurisdictions have the death penalty in the US. Fourteen have a shield law, which blocks the identity of drug makers from being made public, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

In November 2017, Stirling stood next to Gov. Henry McMaster, who called on lawmakers to pass a similar measure.

“The reason we don’t have the drugs, despite intense efforts to get them,” McMaster said at the time standing in front of a prison, “is because the companies that make them, the distributors that distribute them, and the pharmacists who may have to compound them, don’t want to be identified.”

McMaster said many told him privately they are worried about retaliation. There are also ethical and business concerns. Shield laws used in other states have worked, Stirling said. He doesn’t know why it hasn’t passed the legislature.

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“States have it and they’re able to obtain the drugs,” he said. “If we have the shield law it gives us another tool to go to these companies and say, ‘You’ll be protected. Your identity will not be disclosed.’ That does not guarantee they will sell us these drugs…that’s just another tool we have.”

The executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center says shield laws work but it “depends how you define worked.” Robert Dunham says the death penalty needs transparency not secrecy.

“When you have an issue that’s this important and this irreversible, it’s important you be forthcoming,” he said. “If you’re going to use the government’s power to kill somebody, its necessary to make sure that carrying out the law doesn’t violate the law.”

In a statement, McMaster said the SCDC is pursuing “every possible avenue to make sure justice is served.”

“For years, Governor McMaster and Director Stirling have advocated for legislative action that would make sure the Department of Corrections could carry out this sentence,” said the governor’s spokesperson in a statement. “Unfortunately, the General Assembly still hasn’t acted, but the Department of Corrections is pursuing every possible avenue to make sure justice is served in this case and in future cases.”

Some prosecutors say they have sought the death penalty less often in recent years citing the state’s inability to carry out executions. South Carolina’s most notorious serial killer, Todd Kohlhepp, was given seven consecutive life sentences despite the Seventh Circuit Solicitor saying it was a clear death penalty case. Kohlhepp was arrested after a missing woman was found chained up in a metal storage container on his property. He ended up pleading guilty to several murders in 2017.

Dozens of his victim’s family members supported a multiple life sentence. The families wanted swift justice which would not be possible with a lengthy appeals process involved in capital cases and the lack of lethal injection drugs.

Some lawmakers want prisoners to have no choice but to go to the electric chair if the drugs needed for lethal injection are unavailable. Earlier this year, state senators in South Carolina re-introduced a proposal to do that. The Senate passed the bill with an option that also allowed death by firing squad. The House removed that option which means the bill would have to pass the Senate again.

Moore is one of 37 people, all men, currently on South Carolina’s death row.

Click here for more information about South Carolina’s death row.

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