South Carolina Re-Introduces Firing Squad, Putting Black Residents At Risk

More than 20 years ago, South Carolina resident Richard Moore was charged and convicted of robbing a convenience store and killing a clerk. Moore was later charged, convicted and sentenced to death for the incident. However, advocates on behalf of Moore have argued that there is more to the story.

Justice 360, a criminal justice reform nonprofit, has reported that Moore did not bring a gun into the store. Rather, it has been reported that Moore entered the store and got into a heated argument with store clerk James Mahoney. Mahoney, who allegedly kept three guns behind the counter, pulled a gun on Moore. From there, the two got in a struggle for the gun. Ultimately, Justice 360 claims that Moore and Mahoney pointed two separate guns at each other and a shootout ensued. Moore was shot in the arm and Mahoney sustained a fatal gunshot wound to the heart. Following the shooting, prosecutors argue that Moore stepped over Mahoney's body twice in search of cash before leaving the store.

Within public record, there is no case with similar characteristics that has resulted in a death sentence. As a result, attorney Whitney Harrison put forth an effort to take the death penalty off the table. Unfortunately, Harrison was met with stiff resistance. In 75 death penalty cases, the South Carolina State Supreme Court has never deemed a death penalty sentence as "excessive" or unnecessary.

“If we have a court, such as our court, who has never in the history found a sentence disproportionate, doesn’t that signal to lawyers that this is a loser — it’s a loser argument?” South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn asked Harrison.

“It could be until today,” Harrison answered.

Adding to the seriousness of the case, Moore could be executed in a manner that has not been seen in the state of South Carolina in recent memory. Moore was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in December 2020. However, the execution was postponed due to a lack of pharmaceuticals. Now, state legislators are considering bringing back firing squad and electric chair executions. On May 6, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives voted 66-43 to approve the reintroduction of these methods. Just two months earlier, the South Carolina Senate voted in the same manner. The bill will now head to the governor's office.

“Three living, breathing human beings with a heartbeat that this bill is aimed at killing,” Democratic Rep. Justin Bamberg said.

“If you push the green button at the end of the day and vote to pass this bill out of this body, you may as well be throwing the switch yourself.”

Despite push back from Moore's advocates and state lawmakers, Republican legislators stand by their decision.

“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we are caught in this limbo stage where every potential appeal has been exhausted and the legally imposed sentences cannot be carried out," GOP Rep. Weston Newton stated.

If the state moves forward with this bill, it would extend a trend that has lasted decades in the state of South Carolina. Within the last 45 years, 43 people have been executed in South Carolina. Currently, 37 people sit on death row in South Carolina.

“Black people in South Carolina make up over half of South Carolina’s death row, yet make up only 27% of South Carolina’s population,” ACLU of South Carolina’s Executive Director Frank Knaack told WBTW.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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