South Carolina Death Row Inmates Sue After Law Requires Them to Pick Firing Squad or Electric Chair

The firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, in 2010. South Carolina recently passed a law to use a firing squad or the electric chair for executions, citing a lack of lethal injection drugs. South Carolina is just the fourth state to use firing squad, joining Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma. (Trent Nelson/AP)

Two death row inmates in South Carolina, now required by law to choose between a yet-to-be-formed firing squad and a 109-year-old electric chair, have decided to sue instead. They call the state’s recently signed legislation unconstitutional because lethal injection was the main method of execution when they were sentenced.

It’s an argument Democratic state Rep. Justin Bamberg vehemently made as he fought against the new law that is intended to restart executions that have involuntarily stalled in the state for a decade.

“We’re going to force people to get electrocuted and give them the choice of getting shot instead when that wasn’t even the law when they were convicted of their crime,” says Bamberg.

The law does say lethal injection is still possible if it’s available. But that’s a big if.

Many pharmaceutical companies have stopped selling the chemicals needed to put inmates to death with a needle and in South Carolina, unlike other states, there is no shield law to protect local drug makers’ identities.