COLUMBIA, S.C. — Officials said Monday that they can’t carry out South Carolina’s first death penalty in more than six years because the state can’t get the drugs needed for lethal injection, but remaining appeals make it unlikely the execution could have moved forward as scheduled anyway.
The Department of Corrections last week received its first execution order in more than six years. State Supreme Court justices set a Dec. 1 execution date for Bobby Wayne Stone, a 52-year-old man on death row for killing a Sumter County sheriff’s deputy.
Sgt. Charlie Kubala was killed when he was shot twice while checking on a suspicious person at a Sumter home in February 1996. Stone didn’t deny shooting the officer but said his gun went off accidentally when both were in the same area.
The state’s current injection protocol requires three drugs: pentobarbital, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The state’s supply of pentobarbital expired in 2013, and Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said Monday that four years of trying to find an additional supply has failed because drug companies won’t sell if it is publicly known they are providing drugs for executions.
Stirling has asked lawmakers for years to pass a bill allowing the state to keep the providers of execution drugs a secret. Failure to pass that law means the family of the slain deputy won’t see justice next month, the governor said.
“Here we are at a dead stop and we can’t do anything about it unless our Legislature passes the shield law,” Gov. Henry McMaster said during a news conference with Stirling outside the prison that houses the state’s death row.
Other states have struggled with finding companies willing to sell the drugs, fearing harassment and other negative repercussions for being involved in the execution process.
South Carolina currently has 39 inmates on death row. Inmates can choose electrocution, although few do, and Stirling said Monday that Stone had opted for lethal injection.
Even if the state had drugs to carry out Stone’s execution, it’s unlikely it would happen on Dec 1. Stone still has the opportunity to pursue federal habeas corpus, the final stage of the appeals process, which can take time to wind through the court system.
“There was no chance of an execution next month,” Diana Holt, a Columbia attorney who has represented numerous death row clients, said Monday, citing Stone’s remaining federal appeals.
Some prosecutors have been willing to accept life sentences in recent cases because of the state’s inability to carry out executions by lethal injection. Prosecutor Barry Barnette said in May he told the families of the seven people murdered by serial killer Todd Kohlhepp that he couldn’t guarantee Kohlhepp could be executed if he were convicted because South Carolina “doesn’t have a functioning death penalty.” Kohlhepp instead received seven life sentences without parole.
In April, Charleston-area solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she worked out a plea agreement for Dylann Roof resulting in a life sentence because, even if he’d been sentenced to death for killing nine African-Americans at a church, the state couldn’t have executed him.
At that point, Roof had already been sentenced to death in the federal system, and he’s on federal death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.