COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Supreme Court on Monday stayed the execution of a death row prisoner after corrections officials said they couldn’t obtain the necessary lethal injection drugs in time.
Richard Bernard Moore had been scheduled to be put to death on Friday. The court scheduled the execution earlier this month after Moore exhausted his federal appeals. Moore, 55, has spent nearly two decades on death row following his conviction for the 1999 killing of a convenience store clerk in Spartanburg County. He would be the first person executed in South Carolina in nearly a decade.
An attorney for the state Department of Corrections wrote in a letter to the South Carolina Supreme Court last week that the agency cannot carry out the execution due to the lack of drugs. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.
The state’s usual injection protocol calls for three drugs: the sedative pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. But the corrections agency has said it hasn't had the drugs in stock since 2013, when its last supplies expired.
The agency has previously said it reserved the right to execute Moore with a single lethal dose of pentobarbital if it was unable to obtain the other two drugs. Chrysti Shain, a spokesperson for the corrections department, confirmed Monday that the agency had not obtained any of the three drugs.
Lindsey Vann, one of Moore's attorneys, on Monday said the delay of an execution due to a lack of drugs is unprecedented in the state. In 2017, corrections officials said they could not carry out the execution order of Bobby Wayne Stone without the appropriate drugs. At the time, however, Stone had not yet exhausted his appeals in court.
The high court affirmed Monday that per state law, Moore must be executed by lethal injection by default because he did not choose between that and electrocution by a deadline earlier this month.
Moore's attorneys said he didn't make a decision because the agency has not been transparent with its execution protocols. The attorneys said that they have asked the prison for specific details such as what drug dosages are used in a lethal injection and the condition of the state's electric chair. They said prison officials responded that they could only give them the information confidentially, meaning the attorneys would be unable to run it by experts or use it in court.
Securing lethal injection drugs has become an increasingly difficult task in the U.S. as drug manufacturers have shied away from selling to states under pressure from anti-death penalty activists. Corrections chief Bryan Stirling, along with the governor and attorney general, have advocated for a bill to shield the identities of manufacturers who provide such drugs.
State lawmakers have also mulled in recent years a bill to require death row prisoners to die by electric chair if lethal injection is not available.
Moore is one of 37 people, all men, currently on South Carolina’s death row. Some prosecutors have sought the death penalty less often in recent years, citing the state’s inability to carry out executions.
South Carolina’s last execution was in 2011.
This version of the story corrects that the deadline for Moore to choose was this month, not last month.
Michelle Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.