Death penalty in South Carolina
James Earl Reed will be the 280th person executed in South Carolina since 1912.
Before that, executions were by hanging in individual counties.
Of the 279 condemned, 73 were white and 206 were black. Also, 277 were men and two were women.
Legalities of execution
Between 1963 and 1984, the state did not carry out any executions while the legality of death penalty statutes was challenged nationally.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional in cases in which the court or jury had the unfettered discretion to impose the ultimate penalty.
South Carolina, along with 34 other states, modified its statutes to make the capital punishment mandatory in certain cases.
Crimes punishable by death in South Carolina are murder with one of 13 aggravating circumstances and criminal sexual conduct with a minor with one of nine aggravating circumstances.
Also considered capital offenses are second and subsequent offenses of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor who is less than 11 years old.
Methods of execution
All executions in the state were carried out by electrocution until June 1995, when people were allowed to choose between the electric chair and lethal injection.
Since the option of lethal injection was introduced, only two people have been executed by electrocution. The last man to die in the electric chair was in 2004 after he refused to decide a method of execution. The default was the electric chair because he was sentenced before June 1995.
The default mode for those sentenced after June 1995 is lethal injection.
Eight states use the electric chair in executions, and all of those states offer lethal injection as an alternative. The gas chamber, hanging and firing squad also still exist in a few states, which also offer lethal injection as an alternative.
James Earl Reed's fatal stubborn streak is slated to end at 6 tonight in the electric chair. Reed, 49, will be executed for the 1994 shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend's parents in their Adams Run home.
His low intelligence and difficult personality were hallmarks of his trial, where he represented himself. In 2003, he simultaneously declared his innocence and asked for his execution to be carried out.
Ultimately, his fate was sealed in May 1994, when he was released from prison, where he had served time for an assault charge. Less than a month after he was released, he turned up at the house of Joseph and Barbara Ann Lafayette looking for his former girlfriend.
When the couple refused to tell Reed their daughter's whereabouts, he shot them each five times, including point-blank execution shots to their heads, prosecutors said. Family members of the victims declined to comment.
Reed has not requested clemency from the governor's office, according to spokesman Joel Sawyer. Legally, he may still seek a stay, said Mark Plowden, communications director for the S.C. Attorney General's office.
He will be the third person to be executed by electric chair in South Carolina since the lethal injection option was introduced in 1995. Thirty-four men have been put to death in that period, six of whom were tried in Charleston County.
Reed insisted on defending himself in his double-murder trial, ignoring pleas from defense attorneys that he had an IQ of 77. A normal IQ ranges from 85 to 115.
A person with a test score of 70 is considered to have mild retardation, but the ceiling may reach 75 because the standard error of measurement is about 5 points, according to American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
"James is kind of a posterchild for competency," said Joseph L. Savitz, chief appellate defender of the S.C. Office of Appellate Defense, who represented Reed during his first direct appeal. "He is right on the borderline. He becomes competent, then he is incompetent."
Nationally, a few defendants with borderline IQs have had capital punishment charges reversed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The trial judge allowed Reed to represent himself, with a court-designated standby counsel, after a doctor concluded he was competent and able to understand the proceedings. The doctor found Reed's failure to cooperate with appointed counsel to be voluntary, according to court records. The judge's decision was upheld in later appeals.
Reed's personality proved to be problematic for many who worked with him. "A lot of people don't like James. James could be difficult to get along with," Savitz said.
"James never quite really figured out the system he's playing with. I think James thought the system cared about him more than it actually did," he said.
Prosecutors said Reed and the Lafayettes' daughter, Laurie Rego, dated briefly while they were both in the Army but that she tried to end the relationship.
Reed was arrested for driving a car into an Army officer trying to help her. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to assault. In prison, Reed wrote threatening letters to Rego.
After he was released, he bought a gun and hitchhiked to the Lafayettes' house looking for Rego.
He was arrested the following day and confessed to the crime. Three eyewitnesses testified they saw him leave the house and drive away in the victims' car after shots were heard.
Although no physical evidence linked Reed to the scene, detectives found in Reed's bag a diagram of the Lafayettes' home and tennis shoes of the same make as shoe prints found in the Lafayettes' yard.
Neither the gun nor the spent casings were found.
Former 9th Circuit Solicitor David P. Schwacke prosecuted the case. "One of the hardest types of cases to prosecute is when a person represents himself," Schwacke said. "The fear is there is some sympathy engendered to them."
After a jury took only 30 minutes to convict him, Reed pleaded for a lawyer to represent him in the sentencing. The judge refused, and Reed received capital punishment.
In 2003, while housed on Death Row at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville, Reed declared that he wanted to end the appeal process and be executed.
In a letter to The Associated Press five years ago, Reed wrote, "I am standing upon my word that this case be dismiss [sic] or I be killed." He also said he would not ask the governor for clemency, eat a final meal or make a last statement.
Reed's choice of the electric chair strikes some onlookers as yet another ornery decision. "I have no idea why he would do that other than to be contrarian to the end," Savitz said.