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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Whether South Carolina can start executing prisoners again either with a firing squad or electric chair is now in the hands of a judge after a trial over whether shooting or electrocuting inmates is cruel and unusual punishment banned by the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers for four death row inmates argued this week the prisoners would feel terrible pain whether their bodies were “cooking” by electricity or heart stopped by marksman’s bullet — assuming they are on target.

Attorneys for the state countered with their own experts who said death by the yet-to-be-used firing squad or the rarely-used-this-century electric chair would be instantaneous and the condemned would not feeling any pain.

The state Supreme Court ordered Judge Jocelyn Newman to rule within 30 days, but it almost certainly won’t be the end of the case. Whichever side loses is expected to appeal. From 1995 to 2011 – when the state’s last execution was performed – South Carolina carried out the death penalty on 36 prisoners with lethal injections. But the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013, and pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell more for executions.

Prison officials asked lawmakers for help and in 2021 they made the state’s electric chair, built in 1912, the default method for executions and let prisoners choose a new firing squad if they wish.

During this week’s trial, a Corrections Department official said he devised the firing squad protocols after consulting a prison official in Utah, location of the only three inmates to die by firing squad since 1977. Colie Rushton, the department’s security director, testified the .308 Winchester ammunition to be used is designed to fragment and split up in the heart to make death happen as fast as possible, according to media reports from the trial.

Much of the rest of the trial was each side calling its own experts to detail whether inmates feel any pain before they die.

The human brain remains conscious at least 15 seconds after a person’s heart stops beating, said Dr. Jonathan Arden, who formerly led the Washington D.C. Medical Examiner’s office. Arden, testifying on behalf of the inmates said it appeared at least 10% of prisoners in cases he reviewed remained conscious after the first shock of an electrocution.

“Forgive me for saying it so plain,” Arden testified about the electric chair, “but you get the effects on parts on the body, including internal organs, that is the equivalent of cooking.”

Experts for the state testified the shock delivered by the electric chair is so great and the use of ammunition that shatters when it hits bone creating a number of fragments to destroy the heart means almost immediate loss of consciousness and no pain, retired forensic pathologist Dr. D’Michelle DuPre said.

“I believe it would be so quick they would not experience pain at all,” DuPre testified, according to media reports.

Lawyers for the inmates also submitted autopsy photos and reports from inmates who died in the electric chair, saying they demonstrate the pain suffered. Those documents will be reviewed by the judge and not made public. Just three prisoners in South Carolina have chosen the electric chair since lethal injection was made available in 1995.

In closing arguments, lawyers for the state said the other side did not prove that electrocution or a firing squad is more painful than lethal injection, a method that has long been allowed across the country.

“We are in a court of law. This court’s job is to decide questions of law based on the law and based on the facts that it’s heard,” said attorney William Grayson Lambert who is representing the state.

Lawyers for Justice 360, a group that fights for fairness and transparency in death penalty and other major criminal cases and is representing the inmates, said this case wasn’t just about cold facts.

“This case isn’t all about science,” attorney Joshua Kendrick said according to media reports. “Our decisions today are guided by mercy.”

___

Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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Tags: firing squad or electric chair the state’s is representing lethal injection lawyers for executions a firing squad south carolina testified for the state death penalty prisoners based reports the inmates own experts

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Arizona attorney general race to have big impact on abortion rules, election claims

A typically low-key race for Arizona attorney general is set to take on a newfound sense of importance after Republicans chose a political novice turned right-wing firebrand as the party’s nominee in Tuesday’s primary.

Abraham Hamadeh, who campaigned on a staunchly conservative platform and received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, handily defeated a slate of more experienced candidates, including a former Arizona Supreme Court justice, to secure the Republican nomination to be the Grand Canyon State’s chief legal officer. He won the primary largely by closely allying himself with the former president, soundly rejecting the centrist, business-friendly image long associated with Arizona Republicans, and staking out hard-line positions on abortion, elections, and voting rules, among other topics popular with the GOP’s base.

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But Hamadeh’s rapid political rise has alarmed Democrats, who see him as committed to reinstating historical abortion bans, including a strict 1864 law that would allow abortion doctors to be prosecuted with prison time, while also pursuing legislative and legal efforts to call the 2020 election’s legitimacy into question. While Mark Brnovich, the incumbent Republican attorney general who lost his primary for Arizona's open Senate seat on Tuesday, has already begun efforts to reinstate the 1864 law and other historical abortion restrictions in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, he has been an opponent of efforts to question the 2020 election and incurred Trump’s wrath for refusing to aid the former president’s efforts to have Arizona’s election results overturned.

Hamadeh, on the other hand, has firmly aligned himself with Kari Lake and Mark Finchem, the Arizona GOP’s hard-right nominees for governor and secretary of state, respectively, who have both repeatedly rejected the results of the 2020 election. He has also pledged to “prosecute the crimes of the rigged 2020 election” if elected and has seemingly endorsed efforts to “decertify” his state’s 2020 presidential electors. While it’s highly unlikely that Hamadeh will be able to follow through on any pledge to prosecute election officials or “decertify” 2020 electors even if elected, his highly controversial views have transformed the general election into an uncompromising ideological contest that will leave voters with two wildly divergent choices at the ballot box, and is set to have hugely significant implications for law enforcement in Arizona.

Hamadeh, a former Maricopa County prosecutor and Army intelligence officer, will face Democrat Kris Mayes in November’s general election. Mayes won the Democratic nomination uncontested on Tuesday after state Democrats coalesced behind her candidacy. It’s difficult to underscore how different Mayes, a former chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission, is in both style and substance to Hamadeh. In contrast to Hamadeh, who backs restricting abortion from conception, Mayes has alleged that the right to abortion is protected under Arizona’s state constitution, has rejected Gov. Doug Ducey’s recently enacted 15-week abortion ban, and has claimed that prosecuting abortion doctors under the 1864 statute would be “unconstitutional.”

Mayes has also argued that the general election would be tantamount to a referendum on “democracy,” citing Hamadeh’s support for curbing mail-in voting and his unevidenced theories about the 2020 election. She has even said that, if elected, she would refuse to enforce duly enacted state laws restricting abortion.

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While much of Arizona’s attention is fixed on headline-dominating contests at the top of the ticket, the race for attorney general is sure to have an outsize impact on the direction that the state takes on a series of controversial issues, abortion and elections chief among them. And the race for Arizona attorney general is just one of several high-profile examples of how the comparatively centrist, congenial, deal-making attitudes along the lines of Ducey and Sen. John McCain that once defined statewide politics in the Grand Canyon State are nowhere to be found, at least for now.

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