By James Kewish
Legislators recently shot down Utah”s controversial firing squad.
The Utah Legislature voted 15-9, giving final approval to the bill opposing execution by firing squad.
It is expected that Governor Walker will soon make the legislation official.
“I think we need to make the death penalty as humane as possible,” Walker said in a press conference on Friday. “I will certainly sign it.”
A firing squad has only been used twice since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Both executions were in Utah.
Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, said the latest execution caused much controversy. He said executions by firing squad create a distracting “media circus” and cause victims” families more pain because they allow the murderers to go out in a “blaze of glory” and can perversely make heroes out of criminals.
“We still have four on death row that are under a firing squad execution,” said Jack Ford, public information officer for the Utah Department of Corrections. “If it”s still in place, we are prepared to do it.”
Ford said two executions were scheduled for June 27 and 28 of 2003. Both of the inmates had appealed, prolonging their executions. Serial killer Roberto Arguelles has since died of natural causes, but Troy Michael Kell, a white supremacist who stabbed a fellow inmate to death, is still awaiting the decision of his appeal.
While debate lingers about the method of execution in Utah, most people do not oppose execution or capital punishment itself.
“Utah is a very conservative state,” Ford said. “I know that many feel there is one small advantage to this [capital punishment], if nothing else it does give closure to the victims” family members, and they can finally move on with their lives.”
Utah was the first state to carry out an execution after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in 1977. Utah has since executed five death row inmates, four of whom were executed by lethal injection.
The only other firing squad execution in the United States took place in 1996 with John Albert Taylor. This particular execution received media coverage both nationally and internationally from places as remote as Japan and Italy, Allen said.
Utah legislators would like to avoid this type of media coverage, when the focus is more on the method implemented instead of the actual execution.
However, some legislators are still opposed to eliminating the firing squad. Sen. Dave Thomas, R-South Weber, said the media circus is “exactly what we want” in executions.
“We don”t want these sentences to be carried out in the dead of night so no one knows,” Thomas said.
Thomas said lethal injection is painless and is “the easy way out.”