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South Carolina lacks lethal injection drugs needed to execute death row inmate

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McMaster Stirling

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling at a news conference on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, announced that the state does not have lethal injection drugs to execute a death row inmate. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — South Carolina does not have the lethal injection drugs necessary to complete the execution of a death row inmate scheduled for next month, Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ordered a Dec. 1 execution for 52-year-old Bobby Wayne Stone, who was convicted of murder in the 1996 slaying of Sumter County Sheriff Sgt. Charlie Kubala.

But the state has not executed anyone on death row in six years due to the lack of access to the necessary drugs.

McMaster and South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling called on the General Assembly to pass a shield law that would allow companies to sell the drugs to the state confidentially in order to avoid public scrutiny.

"The reason we don't have the drugs despite intense efforts to get them is because the companies that make them, the distributors who distribute them and the pharmacies who may have to compound them don't want to be identified," McMaster said in a news conference outside Broad River Correctional Institution.

The governor explained that the companies are "afraid that their names will be made known and they don't want to have anything to do with it for fear of retribution or exposure," which he said were "perfectly good reasons."

"So here we are at a dead stop, and we can't do anything about it unless or until our Legislature enacts the shield law that Director Stirling asked for years ago," McMaster said.

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South Carolina lawmakers introduced bills in 2015 to eliminate execution by lethal injection, leaving electrocution as the only method for execution, and to allow death-row inmates to choose between a firing squad or electrocution if the lethal drugs were not available. Neither bill passed out of committee.

The unavailability of lethal injection drugs has become a problem for many states around the country that still administer the death penalty. Under pressure from activists opposed to the death penalty, European companies have withheld the materials that were being used in executions, leaving states to try to find new sources and combinations of drugs.

Beyond fear of public condemnation, some pharmaceutical companies have avoided selling drugs for the death penalty because they and their shareholders oppose the practice.

Critics of capital punishment contend that the drug shortage should compel states to reconsider whether it is moral or practical to continue carrying out executions at all, rather than looking for creative new ways to work around the issues.

"Capital punishment degrades our respect for human life and subverts our basis for a moral appreciation of the law," wrote the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in a 2015 blog post. "Is that ultimately what state officials don't want us to see?"

Stirling said the department is still trying to get access to the required drugs with a week and a half left to do so, but they have had no success in years of looking for a new supplier. The department's previous supply expired a month before Stirling took over in 2013, he said.

Several other states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and North Carolina, have passed shield laws to provide secrecy for companies that assist with executions.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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