South Carolina judge denies death row inmates’ lawsuit

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RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Richland County Judge Jocelyn Newman has denied an injunction filed by two inmates set to be executed later this month.

Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens were convicted of separate but unrelated murders. They joined together to combat the new bill Governor Henry McMaster signed into law by suing the Governor as well as the South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling. The new law makes the inmate choose between electrocution or firing squad if lethal injection drugs are not available. The conundrum is the firing squad has yet to be formed, and there are no lethal injection drugs available, so the only option is the electric chair.

Prior to this new law, inmates could choose between lethal injection or electrocution.

Sigmon and Owens are represented by the nonprofit organization Justice 360. At the hearing in front of Judge Newman Justice 360 Attorney Hannah Freedman, argued, “a preliminary injunction is warranted in these circumstances” because “there can be no reasonable argument that the plaintiffs would not suffer permanent harm….if they are executed while this litigation is pending and a court would later determine the statute is unconstitutional.”

Plaintiffs’ argued their clients should be sentenced under the law at the time of their sentence whereas the Governor’s lawyer, Grayson Lambert said, “this isn’t a question of could firing squad be used at some point? Could lethal injection drugs be obtained at some point? The question is now. when this notice was issued by our Supreme Court what could department of corrections use to carry out sentence that was imposed by a jury.”

Ms. Freedman explained the problem. “Defendant Stirling is left to interpret the statute himself and to decide not just what the statute means but what the law is.” 

A lawyer for Stirling, Daniel Plyler, said “there is no due process right about this choice between methods of execution.” Adding rhetorically, “Is that method constitutional? Is this method constitutional? A firing squad kills them in 15 seconds – lethal injection takes 20 minutes – which one is more torturous?”

Grayson Lambert, Attorney for Gov. McMaster endorsed that argument by adding, “The punishment to which Mr. Sigmon and Mr. Owens was sentenced is death. It was not death by a particular method.”

Plyler made clear that Sigmon and Owens have exhausted their post-conviction remedies. “Those due process rights have been well vetted; well explored in the course of the last 20 years by both of these individuals through multiple levels of judicial review and every time it was found they got due process.”

Sigmon’s execution is scheduled for June 18 and Owens for June 25.

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