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The executions of two inmates have been blocked by a US court, who ruled they must get the choice to die by firing squad.

The South Carolina supreme court halted the executions of Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens, ruling that officials needed to put together a firing squad to give them the option of how to be killed.

Sigmon, 63, was scheduled to be executed using the electric chair on Friday, the first use of capital punishment in the state in a decade.

Brad Sigmon has been on death row since 2002, convicted of murdering his girlfriend's parents with a baseball bat. Pic AP
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Sigmon was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend’s parents with a baseball bat. Pic AP

He was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend’s parents with a baseball bat in 2002.

Owen’s electric chair execution was set for 25 June, having been convicted of murdering a store worker during a robbery in 1999.

The state recently changed its capital punishment law to address a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

Freddie Owens was convicted of murder during a robbery in 1999. Pic AP
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Freddie Owens was convicted of murder during a robbery in 1999. Pic AP

It now forces death row inmates to choose between electrocution or firing squad if the drugs are unavailable.

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The law aimed to restart the state’s executions after a 10-year pause caused by its inability to produce the lethal injection.

Prisons officials had previously said they could not get hold of the drugs and had yet to put together a firing squad, leaving the 109-year-old electric chair as the only option.

“The department is moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad,” said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain after the court ruling.

“We are looking to other states for guidance through this process. We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions.”

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Lawyers for the men said electrocution was cruel and unusual and that the new law moves the state toward less humane execution methods.

They said the men had the right to die by lethal injection – the method both chose – and that the state hadn’t exhausted all methods to acquire the drugs.

Lawyers for the state maintained that prison officials were simply carrying out the law and that the US Supreme Court had never found electrocution to be unconstitutional.

South Carolina is one of eight states to still use the electric chair and four to allow a firing squad, according to the Washington-based non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

South Carolina’s last execution took place in 2011 and its batch of lethal injection drugs expired two years later.

There are 37 men on the state’s death row.

Death penalty opponents called for South Carolina to scrap capital punishment altogether.

Abraham Bonowitz, director of the national group Death Penalty Action, said he was grateful the execution plans were blocked but felt a bigger change was needed.

“It’s always good news when executions are put on hold, but if the conversation is only about how we kill our prisoners, rather than if the state should have this power, something is very, very wrong,” he said.

“All of this is unnecessary and a costly waste of taxpayer dollars that could be better supporting the needs of all victims of violent crime.”

At a rally on Wednesday, people marked the anniversary of the electrocution of 14-year-old George Stinney, the youngest person executed in America in the 20th century.

Stinney was still a teenager when he was sent to South Carolina’s electric chair after a one-day trial in 1944 in connection with the killings of two white girls.

A judge threw out the black teenager’s conviction in 2014.

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Man sets himself on fire in protest area outside Trump trial

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Iran grounds flights across country after reports of explosions

A man has set himself on fire outside the courthouse in New York where former US President Donald Trump is on trial.

The man was in the designated protest area outside the courthouse.

It comes after jury selection for Trump’s hush money trial concluded with 12 people, and six alternatives, chosen to decide whether the former US president covered up payments to women who alleged they had affairs with him.

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Donald Trump labels hush money trial a ‘mess’ after jury selected

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Donald Trump labels hush money trial a 'mess' after jury selected

Donald Trump described the hush money case against him as a “mess” after the jury who will decide his fate has been selected.

Leaving the court in New York after proceedings were adjourned for the day, Trump addressed reporters, saying he was supposed to be in states like Georgia, New Hampshire and North Carolina as part of his campaign for the 2024 presidential election.

“[But instead] I’ve been here all day,” he said, labelling the trial as “unfair”.

Trump trial as it happened: Former president looks ‘bored’ in court

Trump held up a stack of news stories and editorials that he said were critical of the case while he continued railing against the trial.

“The whole thing is a mess,” he said.

It comes as all 12 jurors have been seated in the first criminal case against a former US president.

Former President Donald Trump speaks alongside attorney Todd Blanche as they return from a lunch break in his trial at Manhattan criminal court in New York on Thursday, April 18, 2024.  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)
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Pic: AP

Members of the jury include a sales professional, a software engineer, an English teacher and multiple lawyers.

Sky News’ US partner network, NBC News reported there are seven men and five women on the jury.

It comes after lawyers grilled hundreds of potential jurors asking questions on everything from their hobbies and social media posts to their opinion of the former president.

More than half of a second group of prospective jurors were dismissed by Judge Juan Merchan on Thursday after most said they doubted their ability to be fair and impartial.

One juror was also dismissed after she said she “slept on it overnight” and woke up with concerns about her ability to be fair and impartial in the case.

The challenge now is to select six alternate jury members before the trial can move to opening statements, with Mr Merchan hopeful this will be completed on Friday.

Read more:
Judge warns Donald Trump over ‘intimidating’ potential jurors
Trump calls hush money case an ‘assault on America’

Donald Trump orders ’30 milkshakes at chicken restaurant

Trump is accused of criminally altering business records to cover up a $130,000 (£104,200) payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, during his 2016 election campaign.

Ms Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who was paid $150,000 (£120,000), both claim to have had affairs with Trump.

Stormy Daniels, seen here in January, received a $130,000 payment from Trump's lawyer Pic: AP/DeeCee Carter/MediaPunch /IPX
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Stormy Daniels. Pic: AP

His lawyers say the payment was meant to spare himself and his family embarrassment, not to help him win the election.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He could get up to four years in prison if convicted.

The former president faces two other criminal trials accusing him of trying to subvert his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden, and another that accuses him of mishandling classified information after he left the White House in 2021.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

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Boeing whistleblower claims 787 Dreamliner planes ‘defective’

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Boeing whistleblower claims 787 Dreamliner planes 'defective'

Crisis-hit Boeing has rushed to defend itself from fresh whistleblower allegations of poor practice, as the airline continues to grapple its latest safety crisis.

A Congressional investigation heard evidence on Wednesday on the safety culture and manufacturing standards at the company – rocked in January by a mid-air scare that saw an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 flight suffer a panel blowout.

One Boeing quality engineer, Sam Salehpour, told members of a Senate subcommittee that Boeing was taking shortcuts to bolster production levels that could lead to jetliners breaking apart.

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He said of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, that has more than 1,000 in use across airlines globally including at British Airways, that excessive force was used to jam together sections of fuselage.

He claimed the extra force could compromise the carbon-composite material used for the plane’s frame.

“They are putting out defective airplanes,” he concluded, while adding that he was threatened when he raised concerns about the issue.

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Boeing quality engineer Sam Salehpour testifies during the Senate homeland security subcommittee hearing. Pic: AP
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Boeing quality engineer Sam Salehpour testifies during the Senate homeland security subcommittee hearing. Pic: AP

The engineer said he studied Boeing’s own data and concluded “that the company is taking manufacturing shortcuts on the 787 programme that could significantly reduce the airplane’s safety and the life cycle”.

Boeing denied his claims surrounding both the Dreamliner’s structural integrity and that factory workers jumped on sections of fuselage to force them to align.

Two Boeing engineering executives said this week that its testing and inspections regimes have found no signs of fatigue or cracking in the composite panels, saying they were almost impervious to fatigue.

The company’s track record is facing fresh scrutiny amid criticism from regulators and safety officials alike in the wake of the incident aboard the Alaska Airlines plane.

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What’s going on at Boeing?

It has become a trust issue again after the worst period in Boeing’s history when two fatal crashes, both involving MAX 8 aircraft, left 346 people dead in 2018 and 2019.

All 737 MAX 8 planes were grounded for almost two years while a fix to flawed flight control software was implemented.

A separate Senate commerce committee heard on Wednesday from members of an expert panel that found serious flaws in Boeing’s safety culture.

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Boeing CEO: ‘We fly safe planes’

One of the panel members, MIT aeronautics lecturer Javier de Luis, said employees hear Boeing leadership talk about safety, but workers feel pressure to push planes through the factory as fast as they can.

In talking to Boeing workers, he said he heard “there was a very real fear of payback and retribution if you held your ground”.

Pressure on Boeing to focus on safety has included restrictions placed on production, limiting its manufacturing output.

At the same time, it is still facing three separate investigations by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Justice Department and the National Transportation Safety Board relating to the panel blowout.

A management shake-up announced amid the inquiries will see the chief executive depart the company by the year’s end.

Sky News has approached British Airways for comment.

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