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Charleston diocese dismayed at South Carolina legislature’s attempt to resume executions

Electric chair Fer Gregory/Shutterstock

The Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, expressed its dismay Thursday after the state House passed a bill effectively allowing the state to resume executions.

The legislation, passed by the state House of Representatives on Wednesday, permits the state to execute death row inmates by electrocution if the drugs used for lethal injection are not available. The bill also allows inmates to choose death by firing squad as a method of execution. 

Previously, lethal injection was the default method of execution in South Carolina. The state has not executed anyone since 2011, when its supply of drugs used for lethal injection expired. Countries that produce the drugs used in executions have refused to sell them to states for executions.

The state was unable to move forward with executions where death row inmates had chosen to die by lethal injection, according to CNN. The bill passed on Wednesday only allows for death by lethal injection when the state is able to procure the necessary drugs.

“We are extremely disappointed that a bill reinstating access to the death penalty passed the S.C. House of Representatives today and will advance to the governor's desk for signature,” said Maria Aselage, a spokeswoman for the diocese, in a statement on May 5. 

"Every person is created in the likeness of God; their lives should be protected from the time of conception until natural death,” she said. “It is time for our state to abolish the death penalty, not to find new ways to execute our brothers and sisters, including by firing squad."

Under the proposed bill, lethal injection remains an option for execution, but only if the state were able to procure the drugs needed.

An earlier version of the bill passed in the Senate back in March. The South Carolina House of Representatives voted 66-43 to pass the legislation, sending it to Gov. Henry McMaster (R) who has said he will sign it. 

There are currently 37 people on death row awaiting execution in the state, including three inmates who have exhausted all appeals. 

Three other states - Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah - also permit the use of the firing squad in executions. 

The last person in the United States to be executed by firing squad was convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, in 2010.vGardner, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said that the firing squad was consistent with his “Mormon heritage” under the religion’s controversial doctrine of “blood atonement.”  

Utah is the only state to have executed individuals with the firing squad since the death penalty was re-established in 1977. 

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