Court halts executions of Brad Sigmon, Freddie Owens; says firing squad needs to be option
Published 5:19 p.m. ET June 16, 2021 | Updated 12:56 p.m. ET June 17, 2021
The South Carolina Supreme Court has again halted the executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, two Greenville County men convicted of separate murders who were scheduled to die just days from now.
The similar rulings came late Wednesday, June 16, just two days before Sigmon was to be executed, and nine days before Owens' scheduled June 25 execution.
The state Supreme Court directed late Wednesday that the men's executions must not be rescheduled until South Carolina has a firing squad in place as an option for execution.
Before the unanimous ruling granted them reprieves, Sigmon and Owens were scheduled to be the first people in this state in a decade to be executed and the first since South Carolina has spent years trying to obtain drugs used to carry out lethal injections.
Wednesday's ruling is the latest in a series of legal maneuvers in the weeks since South Carolina amended its capital punishment law in May.
A law backed by a majority of state legislators and signed by Gov. Henry McMaster on May 14 makes electrocution South Carolina's default means for carrying out the death penalty. The remodeled capital-punishment law also includes an option to use a firing squad, but the state Department of Corrections could not have it in place in time for scheduled executions. Chrysti Shain, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said in an emailed statement Wednesday after the rulings were issued that the agency "is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad."
"We are looking to other states for guidance through this process," Shain said. "We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions."
In its Wednesday rulings, the state Supreme Court wrote that, according to Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling, "lethal injection is unavailable due to circumstances outside of the control of" his agency, and firing squad policies and procedures are still under development.
"Under these circumstances, in which electrocution is the only method of execution available, and due to the statutory right of inmates to elect the manner of their execution, we vacate the execution notice," the court said in its ruling in the Sigmon case.
Similar language was used in the court's ruling vacating Owens' execution notice.
Sigmon, 63, was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents, David and Gladys Larke. According to court documents, he went into their home on April 27, 2001, and beat them with a baseball bat.
He took a gun from the house and waited for his ex-girlfriend to return. When she did, Sigmon kidnapped her at gunpoint and forced her into his car, according to court documents filed this week. She was able to jump out of the car and Owens shot her, but she survived.
Owens was convicted of killing convenience store clerk Irene Graves while he was part of a robbery spree that started on Halloween 1997, according to court documents and newspaper archives. Graves, a single mother of three children, had only $37 in her register and when she could not open a safe, Owens shot her in the head, according to court documents filed this week.
One of the big pushes behind changing South Carolina's capital punishment law was the state's inability to secure drugs for lethal injections.
Stirling and McMaster made an initial push several years ago for a shield law that would protect the identities of makers and suppliers of the drugs used for lethal injections.
At a news conference in November 2017, Stirling said the state was unable to obtain pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride, drugs that could be used for lethal injections. The last lethal injection drugs the state had expired before Stirling took over as corrections director in late 2013, he said.
Richard Moore of Spartanburg has also made a request for the S.C. Supreme Court to vacate his death sentence.
Moore, 56, received the death penalty in 2001 after his conviction for killing a convenience store clerk in 1999.
He was scheduled to be executed Dec. 4, 2020, but the S.C. Supreme Court delayed the execution. The state Department of Corrections did not have the drugs for lethal injection.
Nikie Mayo is an investigative reporter for The Greenville News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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