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Man leaves South Carolina death row as firing squad trial begins

COLUMBIA, SC (AP) — A South Carolina inmate who killed four people in two states is off death row after a federal appeals court ruled that the judge who sentenced him to death he nearly two decades ago had not considered his abusive childhood or his mental illness.

Last week’s decision means the number of prisoners on South Carolina’s death row has been cut nearly in half since early 2011, when the state last executed.

Whether the state can resume killing inmates may be determined this week at a trial in Colombia where lawyers for several death row inmates argue that the electric chair – as well as the newly created, but so far unused – are cruel and unusual punishments.

Only three inmates in the United States, all in Utah, have died by firing squad since 1977 and 19 have been electrocuted this century.

South Carolina has practiced lethal injection since the early 1990s, but the supply of drugs used to kill inmates expired several years ago and pharmacies have refused to sell additional drugs to the state knowing what they would be used for.

The General Assembly passed a law in 2021 requiring convicted prisoners to choose between electrocution or being shot if lethal injection drugs were not available. Four prisoners on appeal or near appeal of their death sentences have been prosecuted and their execution dates have been postponed.

Whatever decision is reached at this week’s trial will likely be appealed in state and federal courts for years. The state Supreme Court has asked Judge Jocelyn Newman to rule within 30 days of the end of the proceedings.

South Carolina’s death row has dropped to 34 inmates after last week’s ruling in the Quincy Allen case.

The state had 63 inmates awaiting execution as of early 2011, the last year the state put anyone to death. Inmates who left death row either died or had their sentences quashed and prosecutors opted out of seeking the death penalty.

Allen, 42, was sent to death row in 2005 for killing a woman he picked up on a Columbia street with three shotgun blasts and a man during an argument he had with a pregnant woman at the restaurant where he worked.

While Allen was on the run from these murders in South Carolina, he shot and killed two people at a convenience store in Surry County, North Carolina. Allen pleaded guilty in that state and received a life sentence.

In South Carolina, Allen pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and agreed to let State Judge G. Thomas Cooper convict him after Cooper met with defense attorneys to discuss his mental illness and of his childhood, according to the July 26 decision of the US Fourth Circuit Court. calls.

According to a social worker’s testimony at his sentencing hearing, Allen’s earliest childhood memories were of his stepfather beating him and once pulling the trigger on an empty gun while it was pointed at Allen’s eye.

Allen’s mother once told him that she “would have sold Allen if she could have made money off him”. She beat her son, refused to feed him and marked food containers so she knew if they were open, and started kicking him out of the house when he was in fourth grade. Allen remembers sleeping in bushes, a friend’s treehouse or on the playground at McDonald’s, the social worker said.

Allen was sent or volunteered to go to a mental hospital seven times in five years before the murders when he was 22. His mother was called while he was on the roof of the grocery store where he had just been fired, threatening to jump.

“When she arrived a few hours later, she laughed and walked away,” Allen’s medical records read.

Still, Cooper sentenced Allen to death, saying he agreed with some prosecution experts who believed Allen was faking his psychiatric problems.

Two of the three federal appeals judges disagreed.

“The record in this case leaves us in serious doubt that the exclusion, ignorance or neglect of Allen’s serious mental illness and history of childhood abuse had no effect or substantial and prejudicial influence on the outcome of the sentencing proceedings,” they wrote.


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