The Last Person To Be Executed In South Carolina

by Elizabeth King

On Friday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, asked for Dylann Roof to be given the death penalty for allegedly shooting and killing nine people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday. Haley and others, including presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, who is a South Carolina senator, are calling the shootings a hate crime. Now facing nine counts of murder, Roof could also be facing the death penalty, which is still legal in South Carolina. The most recent convict executed in South Carolina was Jeffrey Motts in 2011.

South Carolina has executed 43 prisoners since 1985, all of them were convicted of murder charges, and all of them have been men. As of Friday, South Carolina currently has 44 inmates on death row, but in general the number of inmates executed in the state has seen a large decline.

Jeffrey Motts was executed on Friday, May 6th of 2011. Motts was originally convicted in 1997 for murdering his aunt and one other relative; he also robbed these same two relatives. While serving his sentence at Perry Correctional Institution, Motts strangled his cellmante, Charles Martin to death. After killing Martin, Motts is reported as having breakfast and a cigarette, then bringing Martin's body into a common room and kicking it in front of other inmates.

Something very unique about Motts' case is that he requested his own death sentence. Motts was already serving a life sentence for the double murder of his family members in the mid-1990s, and asked to forgo any appeals after he strangled Martin. A court ruled him mentally competent to make the decision to ask for the death penalty, and he was then put on death row, to be executed by lethal injection.

In addition, Motts was the first person to be executed by lethal injection in South Carolina using the new required combination of drugs. After a federal investigation into how prisons were obtaining the drugs used for lethal injections, prisons switched from sodium thiopental to penobarbital. It took longer for Motts to die than it had for prisoners who had been executed using the previous drug combination, but there were no complications reported.

Included in the final statement that Motts' lawyer read before his execution were the following statements to Motts' mother and grandmother, as well a message about not abusing drugs:

"To my mom and grandma, Happy Mother's Day. I know this is a sad one but let us remember the good times. I am finally free and at peace in heaven."
“I want to warn kids of the dangers of drugs. I was the child everyone wanted their children around until I got on drugs. Drugs will destroy your life.”

Because of the downward trend in executions in South Carolina, it remains to be seen if anyone will follow Motts on the death row roster. The death penalty has long been an extremely divisive and controversial issue in the U.S., and will be an important one to keep track of in the already very high profile case of Dylann Roof.

Images: Columbia Police Department