Utah firing-squad proposal faces key vote Friday
The Associated Press – By By MICHELLE L. PRICE – Associated Press27 minutes ago
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Legislation that resurrects Utah’s use of firing squads to carry out executions faces a key vote Friday morning before the Utah House of Representatives.
The bill from Clearfield Republican Rep. Paul Ray barely won approval from a House committee last week, but it’s unclear if enough of the 75 members in the GOP-dominated House are willing to back the measure.
Ray argues a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths that have occurred in botched lethal injections. His bill would call for a firing squad if Utah cannot get lethal injection drugs 30 days before an execution.
Critics say the firing squad is a gruesome relic of Utah’s Wild West past and would bring international condemnation upon the state. That criticism and excessive media attention was one of the reasons many lawmakers voted in 2004 to stop allowing condemned prisoners to choose death by firing squad.
A handful of inmates on Utah’s death row were sentenced before the law changed and still have the option of going before a firing squad in a few years once they have exhausted any appeals.
It was last used in 2010 when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles.
For years, states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates, but European drug makers have refused to sell the drugs to prisons and corrections departments out of opposition to the death penalty.
Drug shortages and troubles with administering lethal injections have led several states begin revisiting alternatives over the past year
A bill to allow firing squad executions is working its way through Wyoming’s Legislature, while lawmakers in Oklahoma lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow that state to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates.
Ray has argued the firing squad is the fastest, most reliable method and the most humane way to kill someone.
The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, says that a firing squad is not a foolproof method because the inmate could move or shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, more painful death. One such case appears to have happened in Utah’s territorial days back in 1879, when a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson’s heart and it took him 27 minutes to die, according to newspaper accounts.
If Utah’s House votes in favor of the proposal Friday, the bill advances to the Senate, where leaders have declined to say whether they’d support it.
Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has discussed the idea with Ray, but he has not committed to signing the bill if it makes it to his desk, according to Herbert’s spokesman Marty Carpenter.
Carpenter has said Herbert supports Ray’s “efforts to try to address the situation, to try to address the potential situation that the state would be in.”