By MICHELLE LIU
Associated Press/Report for America
COLUMBIA (AP) — A South Carolina prisoner who was to be the first man executed in the state in more than a decade decided to die by firing squad rather than the electric chair later this month, according to court documents filed Friday.
Richard Bernard Moore, 57, is also the first state prisoner to face the choice of execution methods after a law came into effect last year making electrocution the default and 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 put to death in the state since 2011 and the fourth in the country to die by firing squad in nearly half a century.
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 had not admitted that either method was legal or constitutional, but that he more strongly opposed death by electrocution and chose the firing squad 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.
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 postpone the execution so that the United States Supreme Court can determine whether his death sentence was a disproportionate sentence for similar crimes. State judges denied a similar appeal last week.
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.
In the United States, only three executions have been carried out by firing squad since 1976, according to the association. Moore would be the first since Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed in 2010 by a five-person firing squad in Utah.
The South Carolina Corrections Agency said last month it had finished developing protocols for firing squad executions and had completed $53,600 in renovations to Columbia’s death chamber, installing a metal chair with constraints that faces a wall with a rectangular opening at 15 feet. In the case of an execution by firing squad, three volunteer prison officers will raise their guns to the condemned man’s heart.
Moore is one of 35 men on death row in South Carolina. The state last scheduled an execution for Moore in 2020, which was later delayed after prison officials said they could not obtain lethal injection drugs.
Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling reiterated in an affidavit last week that the agency still could not obtain the drugs because formula manufacturers and pharmacies contacted by the state refused to help.
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 person executed in South Carolina was Jeffrey Motts, who was on death row for strangling a cellmate while serving a life sentence for another murder.
Liu is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.