Long-stalled executions in South Carolina could get back on track soon, one way or another.
A state Senate panel on Thursday moved forward with a measure that would shield the identity of manufacturers who produce the drug “cocktail” used in lethal injections, allowing executions to resume after a seven-year pause.
But senators also approved allowing those drug manufacturers to be identified in some cases.
A divided Corrections Committee approved an amendment by state Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, to allow a court to disclose the identity of a drug manufacturer if “good cause” can be shown, such as misconduct on the part of the manufacturer.
“That would require some breach of the standards of the Department of Corrections,” Allen said.
Currently, manufacturers are reluctant to sell drugs for executions if they can be identified publicly, fearing a backlash from consumers. And some senators worried Thursday that anything that allows a manufacturer to be identified could make them reluctant to provide the needed drugs.
“This almost defeats the purpose of the law,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield.
However, Corrections Department director Bryan Stirling told senators he didn’t oppose the proposal, and the department’s attorneys did not think it would hinder their ability to get the drugs.
But if that does happen, the same panel also advanced a measure that would allow the state to use the electric chair to execute inmates.
In South Carolina, death row inmates now can choose lethal injection or electrocution. Ten of 11 S.C. inmates who have had an execution date set have opted for lethal injection. However, those executions have not been carried out, partly because the state has not had the drugs needed to carry out a lethal injection since 2013.
The measure approved Thursday would allow the state to use the electric chair — even if an inmate requests lethal injection — if the Corrections Department certifies the needed drugs are not available. That option also would apply to the 10 death row inmates who already have selected lethal injection.
Massey told committee members the law allows an inmate to choose how to die within 14 days of an execution. However, because those executions are all on hold pending appeal, a new law could be in effect when their final decision is made.
“We can get to where all the appeals are exhausted, but, every time, the inmate has to make an election,” Massey said.
If a court rules the inmate’s choice is what determines how they can be executed, “that’s where the other bill comes in,” Massey said.
The state hasn’t executed any death row inmates since March 2011.
South Carolina last used the electric chair in June 2008 for the execution of James Earl Reed. The 49 year old was convicted in 1996 of the execution-style murder of his ex-girlfriend’s parents.
Both bills now must go to the full Senate for approval. They then must go the S.C. House.