A recent article in the Post and Courier details research into the reasons why 18 death sentences have been overturned in South Carolina, finding one of the main reasons to be prosecutorial misconduct. Research found that 11 of the 18 prisoners received new sentences because of prosecutorial misconduct, while the other seven received new sentences after the decision in Atkins v. Virginia because they had intellectual disability.

The Post and Courier’s research indicates that four of the 18 men who received sentencing relief were prosecuted by former 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers, who prosecuted more capital cases than anyone else in South Carolina history. Solicitor Myers once referred to a defendant as “King Kong,” “a monster,” “a caveman” and “a beast of burden,” and made improper and prejudicial statements in several other cases. According to a 2016 report from the Fair Punishment Project, courts concluded that Solicitor Myers committed misconduct in 18, or nearly half, of the 39 death penalty cases he successfully prosecuted before his term in office ended in 2016. The article notes that two other South Carolina solicitors also made comments during trials that led to cases being resentenced.

Responding to that research, the editorial board of the same newspaper noted the randomness, racial disparities, and questions of innocence that have also been observed in the death penalty:  

The cen­tral prob­lem with the death penal­ty is that the stan­dards for seek­ing it (much less win­ning a death sen­tence) vary so dras­ti­cal­ly from one judi­cial cir­cuit and even from one coun­ty to the next. That vari­a­tion is a big rea­son there remains even today such a clear racial com­po­nent for its appli­ca­tion. It’s why one co-killer can be exe­cut­ed while the oth­er one gets a life sen­tence — some­times even when the one whose life is spared was the ring­leader. It’s why even death-penal­ty sup­port­ers such as us some­times find our­selves uncer­tain if the per­son being exe­cut­ed real­ly com­mit­ted the crime.

The editorial board goes on to recommend that “a statewide panel of [prosecutors]” rather than individually elected prosecutors, make decisions about whether the death penalty will be sought. That, the Board explained, would remove the decision-making power from people who must stand for reelection and who can be “too easily swayed by public emotion.” That single change, the Board wrote, would reduce the randomness of the death penalty and reversals.


Fair Punishment Project, America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors: How Overzealous Personalities Drive the Death Penalty, June 2016; Editorial, Nov. 12, 2023, One sim­ple change to make SC death penal­ty less ran­dom, South Carolina Post and Courier, Nov. 12, 2023; David Ferrara, 18 for­mer death row inmates have been released since 2011. Here’s why.  South Carolina Post and CourierNov. 122023.