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South Carolina schedules first execution after preparing death chamber for firing squad

South Carolina has scheduled its first execution after corrections officials finished updating the death chamber to prepare for executions by firing squad.

The clerk of the State Supreme Court has set a April 29 execution date for Richard Moore, a 57-year-old man who has spent more than two decades on death row after he was convicted of killing convenience store clerk James Mahoney in Spartanburg.

Moore could face a choice between the electric chair and the firing squad, two options available to death row prisoners after legislators altered the state's capital punishment law last year in an effort to work around a decade-long pause in executions, attributed to the corrections agency's inability to procure lethal injection drugs.

death penalty
This 2019 photo shows the electric chair previously used by the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections via AP

The new law made the electric chair the state's primary means of execution while giving prisoners the option of choosing death by firing squad or lethal injection, if those methods are available.

The state corrections agency said last month it had finished developing protocols for firing squad executions and completed $53,600 in renovations on the death chamber in Columbia, installing a metal chair with restraints that faces a wall with a rectangular opening 15 feet  away.

In the case of a firing squad execution, three volunteer shooters - all Corrections Department employees - will have rifles loaded with live ammunition, with their weapons trained on the inmate's heart. A hood will be placed over the head of the inmate, who will be given the opportunity to make a last statement.

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.

South Carolina Execution
This undated photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows Richard Moore. / AP

Moore is one of 35 men on South Carolina's death row. He exhausted his federal appeals in 2020, and the state Supreme Court denied another appeal this week.

However, Associate Justice Kaye Hearn wrote a blunt 14-page dissent.

"The death penalty should be reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes in our society, and I do not believe Moore's crimes rise to that level," Hearn wrote.

Lindsey Vann, an attorney for Moore, said Thursday she will ask the court to stay the execution.

The state last  scheduled an execution for Moore in 2020, which was then delayed  after prison officials said they couldn't obtain lethal injection drugs.

During Moore's 2001 trial, prosecutors said Moore entered the store looking for money to support his cocaine habit and got into a dispute with Mahoney, who drew a pistol that Moore wrestled away from him.

Mahoney pulled a second gun, and a gunfight ensued. Mahoney shot Moore in the arm, and Moore shot Mahoney in the chest. Prosecutors said Moore left a trail of blood through the store as he looked for cash, stepping twice over Mahoney.

At the time, Moore claimed that he acted in self-defense after Mahoney drew the first gun.

Moore's supporters have argued his crime doesn't rise to the level of heinousness in other death penalty cases in the state. His appeals lawyers have said that because Moore didn't bring a gun into store, he couldn't have intended to kill someone when he walked in.

In 2020, South Carolina postponed Moore's execution after the state could not obtain the drugs to carry out lethal injection. Moore was given the option but declined the alternative execution method: electrocution.

South Carolina's last execution was in 2011, when Jeffrey Motts, on death row for strangling a cellmate while serving a life sentence for another murder, abandoned his appeals and opted for the death chamber.

The last time the state executed someone by electrocution was 2008.

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