Utah House considers nixing firing squads

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    By Timothy Miller

    Members of the Utah House of Representatives are considering legislation that would eliminate the firing squad as a means of execution.

    Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, who headed a similar push seven years ago, is the primary supporter of any such legislation.

    In 1996, Allen attempted to eliminate the firing squad method of execution through a proposed bill, which would have given the state the sole responsibility for deciding how a prisoner dies. The bill, however, never made it past a Utah House committee.

    “At this point in time, there is no formal bill of request, although I expect there will be one soon,” Allen said. “Right now, it is being discussed informally, and it is likely that a bill will develop soon; however, it is still not definitive.”

    Utah is one of three states that still use the firing squad as one of the options for execution, although lethal injection is the more commonly used method. The other two states that still allow the firing squad are Idaho and Oklahoma.

    Utah is also one of the only states that give prisoners on death row the choice of execution method.

    “Allowing the condemned to choose is harmful to the process,” Allen said. “Because the state is the one that has to carry out the execution, they (the state) should be the one to choose how it is done.”

    Allen also said the prisoners who choose to be executed by firing squad only do it to gain attention.

    “I get phone calls from around the world that ask us why we use this form of punishment,” she said. “I have no doubt that a lot of the negative attention drawn to the prisoner would be reduced if we didn”t have the firing squad.”

    Other officials from the Utah Attorney General”s Office said they are neither opposed to the legislation nor supportive of it.

    “The firing squad, right now, is one of the legal options a prisoner can chose, and so we uphold it if that is what they want,” said Assistant Attorney General Erin Riley. “Any changes in legislation (regarding executions) are for the lawmakers to decide.”

    Riley also said prosecuting death penalty cases in Utah is not any more difficult because of the firing squad.

    “It”s really a non-issue at this point because prisoners are given the option of choosing how they want to be executed,” she said. “Other states also allow the prisoners to choose, but Utah is the only one where the firing squad is given as a choice.”

    Allen and other opponents of the firing squad also think tourism in Utah suffers because of it.

    “I would much rather be taking questions from other states and countries about what great things there are to do in Utah rather than questions about the firing squad,” she said. “People truly are aghast because of it.”

    The last prisoner put to death by a firing squad in Utah was John Albert Taylor in 1996. Currently, only two of the six death row inmates in Utah are scheduled to die by firing squad.

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