COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — More than 10 aggravating circumstances can make a convicted murderer eligible for the death penalty in South Carolina.
Under state law, the decision to impose a death penalty is decided by a jury. South Carolina has executed more than 650 people, including infamous serial killer Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins, Jr., who was executed via electric chair in 1991.
Bills are commonly proposed at the state level to abolish capital punishment. However, the bills have not passed, and legislation approved by the General Assembly last year expanded the methods of execution from exclusively lethal injection to also include the electric chair and firing squad. The state has not executed an inmate since 2011 due to its inability to obtain the deadly drugs.
There are currently 35 people on death row in South Carolina.
Death row inmates are housed at the Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia. Executions are conducted at Broad River Correctional Institution, also in Columbia.
Those who have been executed have been disproportionately inmates of color, according to information from Death Penalty Information Center, which states that 74.5 percent of all people who received capital punishment in the 20th century were Black. During that century, people were allowed to be put to death for rape or attempted rape, but the state “employed it almost exclusively against Black men.”
Only Black men and boys were executed for charges of attempted rape, according to the center.
Under current state law, a person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to murder, either faces the death penalty or at least 30 years in prison. Pregnant inmates cannot be executed while they are pregnant, and for at least nine months afterward.
The state must argue that there is an “aggravating” circumstance in order to pursue the death penalty.
According to state law, those circumstances are:
- A murder was committed in addition to any degree of criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, human trafficking, burglary, robbery while armed with a deadly weapon, larceny with the use of a deadly weapon, drug trafficking, physical torture and/or first-degree arson;
- Murder committed via poison;
- A murder victim was dismembered;
- The defendant has already been convicted of another murder;
- The defendant murdered someone and “knowingly created a great risk of death” to at least one other person in a public place;
- The murder was committed for the purpose of receiving money or an object of monetary value;
- The murder victim was a current/former judicial officer, solicitor or other office of a court who was killed during or because of their exercise of official duty;
- The defendant caused, or directed another person, to commit murder “as an agent or employee of another person”;
- The murder victim was a current or former law enforcement officer or a firefighter, and the killing happened during or because of the victim’s official duties;
- The murder of a public official’s family member with the intent to impede or retaliate against the official;
- At least two people were murdered “by one act or pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct”;
- The murder victim was a child 11 years old or younger;
- A witness or potential witness to a crime was murdered;
- An accused murderer has been declared a sexually violent predator.
A defendant can argue during an appeal that a jury unfairly imposed a death sentence “under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.” Another argument is if the death sentence isn’t considered proportional to the penalty given for similar crimes.
That argument was used by Richard Bernard Moore, who was convicted of shooting and killing James Mahoney, a store clerk in Spartanburg, during an armed robbery. The South Carolina Supreme Court upheld his death penalty last week.
He is scheduled to be executed later this month.