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South Carolina death row inmate picks firing squad over electric chair for execution

This photo provided by South Carolina Dept. of Corrections shows inmate Richard Moore.
Richard Moore, a South Carolina inmate set to be executed later this month, has chosen to die by firing squad rather than in the electric chair.
(South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP)
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A South Carolina prisoner scheduled to be the first man executed in the state in more than a decade has decided to die by firing squad rather than in the electric chair later this month, according to court documents filed Friday.

Richard Bernard Moore, 57, is the also first state prisoner to face the choice of execution methods after a law went into effect last year making electrocution the default and giving inmates the option to face three prison workers with rifles instead.

Moore has spent more than two decades on death row after being convicted of murder in the 1999 killing of convenience store clerk James Mahoney in Spartanburg. If executed as scheduled on April 29, he would be the first person put to death in the state since 2011.

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The new law was prompted by the decadelong break, which corrections officials attribute to an inability to procure the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections.

In a written statement, Moore said he didn’t concede that either method was legal or constitutional, but that he more strongly opposed death by electrocution and only chose the firing squad because he was required to make a choice.

“I believe this election is forcing me to choose between two unconstitutional methods of execution, and I do not intend to waive any challenges to electrocution or firing squad by making an election,” Moore said in the statement.

South Carolina has approved a law requiring the condemned to choose between a firing squad or the electric chair if the state can’t find the drugs to kill them.

May 17, 2021

Moore’s attorneys have asked the state Supreme Court to delay his execution while another court determines if either available method is cruel and unusual punishment. The attorneys argue that prison officials aren’t trying hard enough to get the lethal injection drugs, instead forcing prisoners to choose between two more barbaric methods.

His lawyers are also asking the state Supreme Court to delay the execution so the U.S. Supreme Court can review whether Moore’s death sentence was a disproportionate punishment compared with similar crimes. The state justices denied a similar appeal last week.

The state corrections agency said last month that it finished developing protocols for firing squad executions and completed $53,600 in renovations to the death chamber in Columbia, installing a metal chair with restraints that faces a wall with a rectangular opening 15 feet away. In the case of a firing squad execution, three volunteer prison workers will train their rifles on the condemned prisoner’s heart.

The Justice Department is amending its execution protocols, easing a requirement that federal death sentences be conducted by lethal injection.

Nov. 27, 2020

South Carolina is one of eight states that still use the electric chair and one of four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

There are 35 men on South Carolina’s death row. Moore was previously scheduled for execution in 2020, but that was delayed when prison officials said they couldn’t obtain lethal injection drugs.

During Moore’s 2001 trial, prosecutors said he entered the store looking for money to support his cocaine habit and got into a dispute with Mahoney, who drew a pistol that Moore wrestled away from him.

Mahoney pulled a second gun, and a gunfight ensued. Mahoney shot Moore in the arm, and Moore shot Mahoney in the chest. Prosecutors said Moore left a trail of blood through the store as he looked for cash, stepping twice over Mahoney.

Utah’s decision to bring back the firing squad to carry out death sentences is the latest step in the continuing battle over how the state imposes capital punishment.

March 24, 2015

At the time, Moore claimed that he acted in self-defense after Mahoney drew the first gun.

Moore’s supporters have argued that his crime doesn’t rise to the level of a death penalty offense. His appeals lawyers have said that because Moore didn’t bring a gun into store, he couldn’t have intended to kill someone when he walked in.

The last person executed in South Carolina was Jeffrey Motts, who was on death row for strangling a cellmate while serving a life sentence for another murder.

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