HB11: Lawmaker wants to add firing squad back to Utah death penalty options


By Blakely Gull
Capital West News Service

Ten years after banning the use of firing squads as means of execution in Utah death penalty cases a Clearfield lawmaker wants the it to be option along with lethal injection claiming it is the more humane of the two.

Utah State Capitol Building
Utah State Capitol Building

“The prisoner dies instantly,” Ray said. “It sounds draconian. It sounds really bad, but the minute the bullet hits your heart, you’re dead. There’s no suffering.”

If HB11 passes the legislative process it would allow the firing squad to kill death-row inmates if state cannot obtain the drugs used for lethal injection 30 days before the scheduled execution.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, who was part of an interim panel that voted and approved the idea last November, cast one of two votes against Ray’s proposal. Wheatley insisted he voted against the idea because Utah doesn’t have a problem that needs to be fixed.

“Using the firing squad takes a step back,” Wheatley said. “It’s barbaric. It is an outdated method and would be inefficient policy.”

The bill comes after a series of botched lethal injection executions occurred in Arizona, Oklahoma and Ohio. In these specific cases the inmates suffered for long periods of time after being injected. Perhaps the most disturbing of the three cases was the execution of Joseph Wood who gasped every five to 12 seconds until he was finally pronounced dead an hour and a half later.

After these botched executions, the legality of both lethal injection and the death penalty are under discussion. It also caused the Supreme Court to halt the execution of a convicted Missouri murderer last May.

Jensie Anderson, former president of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and University of Utah law professor, said, “The death penalty is wrong regardless of how you do it. In an imperfect system that makes mistakes we risk the opportunity of executing an innocent person.”

Wheatley, who opposed the death penalty, said, “I’m against the death penalty in the first place. It doesn’t deter crime. But if the state accepts the death penalty it shouldn’t use the firing squad.”

However, Ray believes the firing squad may be more acceptable now, especially as states struggle to find answers to the drug shortage created by European drug manufacturers refusing to supply the necessary drug cocktail for lethal injections out of anti-death penalty motives.

Utah has had a notorious history with the death penalty. It was the first state to execute a prisoner, Gary Gilmore, after a national death penalty moratorium between 1967-1976. His story was popularized by the Norman Mailer book, “The Executioner’s Song.” Since 1976, six men have been executed in Utah, three by firing squad and three by lethal injection. Utah lawmakers backed away from the firing squad option after the state drew national media attention for the execution of John Albert Taylor in 1996.


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