A South Carolina judge on Tuesday refused to block two executions set for later this month as she considers a lawsuit over the state’s new capital punishment law, which effectively forces condemned prisoners to choose to die by either the electric chair or firing squad. State Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman issued the decision to let the planned executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens proceed after their attorneys had argued in court that the men should not be executed while the lawsuit is pending, the AP reports. The two “have little likelihood of success on the merits of their claim,” Newman wrote. If the executions proceed as scheduled, Owens and Sigmon would likely die in the state’s electric chair, as prisons officials say they can’t get hold of lethal injection drugs and have yet to put together a firing squad.
The lawsuit was filed shortly after Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law the bill aimed at restarting executions after an involuntary 10-year pause that the state attributes to an inability to procure lethal injection drugs. Lethal injection remains the default method, but the new law compels the condemned to choose between electrocution and a firing squad if drugs aren’t available. Attorneys for the two men say they can’t be electrocuted or shot since they were sentenced under a prior law that made lethal injection the default execution method. Both Sigmon and Owens are also seeking to block their scheduled deaths by electrocution in federal court, where they argue electrocution is cruel and inhumane and that state officials aren’t trying hard enough to obtain lethal injection drugs. A court hearing on that challenge is set for Wednesday.
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