On September 19th, 2023, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Corrections issued a joint statement informing the public that the state is “now prepared” to carry out lethal injection executions, as they have retained the drug needed to do so. Gov. McMaster and Department of Corrections officials filed a brief with the South Carolina Supreme Court, notifying the courts of their procurement of pentobarbital, a sedative that can be lethal in high doses, and asking for a resumption of executions. In his press release, Gov. McMaster says that “justice has been delayed for too long in South Carolina… This filing brings our state one step closer to being able to once again carry out the rule of law and bring grieving families and loved ones the closure they are rightfully owed.” The Director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), Bryan Stirling, revealed that the state successfully purchased pentobarbital, instead of relying on the state’s previous protocol, which included three drugs. Mr. Stirling did not reveal the specific protocol in place but noted that it is nearly identical to the protocol adopted by the U.S. federal government.

South Carolina, like many other states, has been unable to purchase the drugs needed to carry out lethal injection executions since their supply expired in 2013. Republican state officials have cast blame on the lack of ‘shield laws’ for their inability to acquire drugs, as “leaders have said pharmaceutical companies fear public pressure from activists and therefore will not sell to states that do not conceal their identities.” In early 2023, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that was signed by Gov. McMaster in May 2023, formally concealing the identities of lethal-injection drug suppliers and execution team members. According to department of corrections officials, they have since made more 1,300 contacts in efforts to secure drugs.

Current South Carolina law requires that a death row prisoner be executed by the electric chair, unless the individual elects for the firing squad or lethal injection. Those on death row in South Carolina have argued that dying by firing squad or from electric shock causing a heart attack is cruel and unusual punishment, which is barred by the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There are ongoing legal challenges to both of these methods of execution. Gov. McMaster has asked the state supreme court to vacate these lawsuits, now that they have acquired pentobarbital and can avoid the concerns raised in the petitions.

There are currently 34 prisoners on death row in South Carolina, according to the SCDC. The state’s last execution was in May 2011, with the lethal injection execution of Jeffrey Motts.


WLTX, South Carolina obtains lethal injec­tion drugs, says it’s ready to per­form exe­cu­tions again, News 19, September 19, 2023; Jeffrey Collins, After unin­tend­ed 12-year pause, South Carolina secures drug to resume lethal injec­tions, Associated Press, September 192023

See Governor McMaster’s press release here.