As the trial challenges
Caroline from the southThe state’s execution methods began on August 1, 2022, a review of the state’s death penalty by the Greenville News revealed a pattern of discrimination, geographic arbitrariness and high error rates in sentencing. In a two-part examination, journalist Kathryn Casteel analyzed racial and county demographics on death row, reversal rates in capital cases, and the timing of death sentences to provide context for efforts to the state to institute the electric chair and firing squad as its main execution. methods.

Four of South Carolina’s 35 death row inmates are suing the state to block a law that would force them to choose between electrocution and firing squad as methods of execution. One of the men, Richard Moore, wrote in an April legal filing, “I believe this election forces me to choose between two unconstitutional methods of execution.” Executions are on hold while a court hears the prisoner’s case, but Casteel points out that the 31 men not involved in the prosecution are all ineligible for execution for various procedural reasons. Thirteen prisoners are in the post-conviction appeal phase, four have had their death sentences overturned, six cases are on federal appeal, three are either unfit for execution or unfit to stand trial, and the remaining five have a other legal impediment to enforcement.

The high rates of error and state misconduct in the imposition of the death penalty underscore the importance of pending prisoner appeals. “Over 60% of the cases that went through the death penalty process in South Carolina were eventually overturned, so the appeals courts are saying the trial courts are getting it wrong most of the time,” Madalyn said. Wasilczuk, assistant professor. at the University of South Carolina Law School. “That’s a very important reason why we need this review.” In particular, prosecutorial misconduct contributed to 29 out of 81 death penalty overturns, according to a 2016 study by Cornell law professor John Blume, former director of the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center and executive director of Justice 360, Lindsey Vann.

A handful of Palmetto State prosecutors have been responsible for a disproportionate number of death sentences. Only four prosecutors have sent 14 of the current 35 prisoners to death row. A single prosecutor, Donnie Myers, has secured 39 death sentences against 28 defendants over four decades. The courts found fault in at least 18 of his cases. In one case, involving an infant victim, he held a funeral procession, placed a black shroud over a cradle, and warned the jury that, without a death sentence, it would be “open season on babies in Lexington County.” The South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the sentence, calling his argument “overzealous”.

Racial bias is also evident in the state’s use of the death penalty, which values ​​white lives more than black lives and disproportionately subjects defendants of color to capital punishment. Over the past fifty years, the death penalty has been overwhelmingly reserved for cases with white victims (80.9%), while only 16.9% of death sentences in South Carolina have been for the murder of a black person. While the state’s population is only about a quarter black (27%), nearly half (46.9%) of those on death row since 1972 are black.

Blume said prejudice has historical roots: “It’s a pattern that has persisted since the early modern era, and has persisted in the pre-modern era as well, throughout the history of the death penalty in South Carolina since colonial times. It was almost exclusively for people who kill white people, and mostly black people who kill white people.

Casteel’s review also highlighted the importance of defense representation. The vast majority of death sentences in South Carolina were handed down before the state created an office dedicated to the defense of the capital. Since 2010, only three people have been sentenced to death. “There are very few people coming in the row,” Blume said. “Some of these people will win the appeal, or some of them will not be executed because they are incompetent. Some of them will probably be executed. But eventually, I think the number is going to get so small, at some point, someone is going to say, “Why are we doing this?”

Sources

Catherine Castel, In South Carolina, the story of death penalty racism continues, evidence shows Greenville News, August 1, 2020; Catherine Castel, CS death penalty cases have been before the courts for years. Many are reversed.Greenville News, August 1, 2020; Kelsey Sanchez and Ross Mashburn, Day 2: CS Death Penalty Trial Challenges Execution Methods, WACHAugust 2, 2022.

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