South Carolina inmate Richard Moore chooses firing squad over electric chair as execution looms

A South Carolina prisoner who was to be the first man executed in the state in over a decade has decided to die by firing squad rather than the electric chair later this month, according to court documents filed Friday.

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

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

death sentence
This photo from 2019 shows the electric chair previously used by the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

Kinard Lisbon/SC Department of Corrections via AP

The new law was prompted by the decade-long hiatus, which corrections officials attribute to an inability to obtain the drugs needed to perform lethal injections.

In a written statement, Moore said he does not concede that either method is legal or constitutional, but that he more strongly opposes death by electrocution and chose the platoon. of execution only because he had to make a choice.

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

Execution in South Carolina
Richard Moore

South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP

Moore’s attorneys have asked the state Supreme Court to delay his death while another court determines whether either of the available methods is cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers argue that prison officials are not trying hard enough to obtain the lethal injection drugs, instead forcing prisoners to choose between two more barbaric methods.

His attorneys are also asking the state Supreme Court to delay the execution so the U.S. Supreme Court can determine whether Moore’s death sentence was a disproportionate sentence for similar crimes. State judges denied a similar appeal last week.

However, Associate Justice Kaye Hearn wrote a 14-page direct dissent.

“The death penalty should be reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes in our society, and I don’t believe Moore’s crimes rise to that level,” Hearn wrote.

The state corrections agency said last month it had finished developing protocols for firing squad executions and completed $53,600 in renovations to the death chamber at Columbia, installing a metal chair with restraints that faces a wall with a rectangular opening 15 feet (4.6 meters) away. In the case of an execution by firing squad, three volunteer prison officers will raise their guns to the condemned man’s heart.

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

Moore is one of 35 men on death row in South Carolina. In 2020, South Carolina postponed Moore’s execution after the state was unable to obtain the drugs needed to perform a lethal injection. Moore was given the option but refused the alternative method of execution: electrocution.

During Moore’s 2001 trial, prosecutors said Moore entered the store looking for money to support his cocaine use and got into an argument with Mahoney, who pulled out a gun that Moore snatched from him .

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

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

Moore’s supporters argued that his crime did not rise to the level of a misdemeanor punishable by death. His appeal attorneys said that because Moore did not bring a gun into the store, he could not have intended to kill anyone when he entered.

The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011, when Jeffrey Motts, sentenced to death for strangling a cellmate while serving a life sentence for another murder, dropped his appeals and opted for the death chamber.

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