Death Penalty

Death by Firing Squad Returns to South Carolina

Due to a lack of access to lethal injection drugs, Richard Moore had to choose between the electric chair and getting shot through the heart.


South Carolina death row inmate Richard Moore is scheduled to be executed next week by firing squad, the first U.S. execution in that manner in more than a decade.

The state's prison officials had been struggling to get their hands on the drugs used for lethal injection. So in 2021, lawmakers passed a bill to change the state's method of execution to the electric chair—but inmates are also given the option of the firing squad if they would prefer it.

Moore, while acknowledging he'd prefer not to be executed at all, has chosen the firing squad. In a statement, Moore declared that both methods of killing him would be unconstitutional but he finds the prospect of being electrocuted worse.

Moore, now 57, was sentenced to death 21 years ago, after a convenience store robbery in Spartanburg County in 1999 went wrong. Moore was unarmed when he started his attempt to rob the shop to get money to buy cocaine. The clerk, James Mahoney, was the one with a gun. But they got into a tussle when Mahoney defended himself, and the gun went off, killing Mahoney. Moore then shot at a bystander with Mahoney's gun, missed, and fled the scene before surrendering to police.

Moore didn't dispute his guilt. Jurors took just two hours of deliberation to convict him and one hour to sentence him to death. But his attorney has been arguing that the 2021 execution law cannot be retroactively applied to him. Since state officials can't get the proper lethal injection drugs, the end result of this argument would presumably be that Moore would avoid execution should judges agree.

The case could make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that doesn't necessarily bode well for Moore. Most of the court's current justices have been reluctant to intervene in executions so far, other than a ruling in March that death row inmates have a right to have religious or spiritual advisors on hand and praying over them as they are killed.

Moore is scheduled to die on April 29. Should South Carolina follow through, Moore will be the fourth prisoner executed by firing squad since 1976—the year that the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume following a halt in 1972. Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah are the only other states that allow for a firing squad as a method of execution.