- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A proposal introduced in South Carolina on Wednesday would add death by firing squad to the state’s list of approved execution methods.

Lethal injection is the default method of execution in South Carolina; inmates may also choose electrocution.

But South Carolina is among states that have run out of execution drugs amid pharmaceutical companies’ fears of exposing themselves to possible harassment. Legislation that would shield companies’ names from the public, in the hopes they’d sell the drugs again, has stalled.

The proposal would also allow the state to execute inmates by electrocution if the state doesn’t have any lethal injection drugs. South Carolina uses a three-drug method for lethal injection, and the state’s supply of pentobarbital expired in 2013.

The Department of Corrections did not immediately comment on the proposal Wednesday.

No one has ever been executed by being shot to death in South Carolina, according to statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center, whose database of 684 executions in South Carolina goes back to 1718.

The state mainly hanged its criminals until introducing the electric chair in 1911. The electric chair was used until lethal injection was introduced in 1995.

Burning was the only other execution method routinely used in the state, with the last of 13 criminals burned to death in 1825, according to the center.

The new bill, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, was introduced by Rep. Joshua Putnam. The Republican from Piedmont said he came up with the bill after hearing about South Carolina running out of the drug.

“I don’t know how humane it is to electrocute somebody,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There’s obviously cases where lethal injection drugs have not worked properly and caused excruciating pain. At least we do know by firing squad you don’t feel anything.”

The proposal would allow Corrections officials to pick a five-member firing squad composed of law officers, and Putnam said he found the method more humane.

“I’ve not found any evidence a firing squad has caused any pain or there has been a mistake with that,” Putnam said. “There are always people who are against capital punishment. You’re not going to win over any of those people at all.”

Rep. Joe Neal said Putnam’s humane argument made little sense.

“I can’t think of a more hideous spectacle than gunning down someone,” said Neal, D-Hopkins, adding there is a good reason firing squads were long ago replaced by other execution methods.

“Whether people suffer or not depends on the aim of an unknown marksman,” Neal said.

With execution drugs largely unavailable, states have been looking at alternatives. Tennessee passed a law last year to reinstate the electric chair if it can’t get lethal injection drugs, and Utah has reinstated the firing squad as a backup method. Nebraska is considering repealing its death penalty altogether.

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Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report. Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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