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Utah Could Soon Revive Death by Firing Squad

Lawmakers advanced a bill that would bring back the firing squad to help solve recent spate of botched executions by lethal injection.

by Liz Fields
Nov 20 2014, 11:50pm

Image via AP/Trent Nelson

Utah lawmakers are one step closer to bringing back the firing squad, after approving a bill that would allow condemned criminals to be shot to death if the drugs needed to administer lethal injection are not available in the 30 days before their scheduled execution date.

"This bill just says we have a backup," said Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clearfield), who introduced the legislation to the House committee after a 10-year ban on the capital punishment method also known as fusillading. "Hopefully, we never have to use it."

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee approved Ray's bill in a 9-2 vote on Wednesday, but the proposal still needs to go through the full Utah State Legislature after its annual session begins in January, according to the Guardian.

Utah banned executions by firing squad in 2003, in part to curb media attention, though inmates sentenced before 2004 can still be killed this way. Ray said this week, however, that it was the most humane option available of the capital punishment alternatives — including hanging, decapitation, or electric chair — as it brings "instant death." 

"A lot of these folks are dead before they even hear the gun," he said. The last Utah execution by this method was administered on a double murderer in 2010.

The world should follow Belgium's lead in granting prisoners the right to die. Read more here.

Ray also said the bill would address the problems in obtaining the mix of three lethal injection drugs used by many states for years. In protest of the death penalty, European pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell the injection cocktail to US prisons and corrections facilities.

As a result, state prisons have had to resort to using various experimental drugs, with different levels of success. The debate around the use of these lethal cocktails was reignited in September when a botched execution using untested drugs in Oklahoma left a convict writing in agony for 43 minutes before he died of a heart attack. Typically, lethal injection deaths last for under 10 minutes.

In July, an Arizona death row inmate, who was also injected with a new combination of drugs, gasped and snorted for an hour and 40 minutes. The same drug combination had only been used once earlier in January on an Ohio criminal who took 25 minutes to die.

Oklahoma rep proposes new form of execution by nitrogen asphyxiation. Read more here.

After these incidents, a lawmaker in Oklahoma proposed using nitrogen gas to asphyxiate inmates as an alternative to lethal injection. Politicians in other states are following suit in looking for alternatives, with lawmakers in Wyoming already advancing a similar death-by-firing squad proposal comparable to Utah's bill this September.

But not everyone is convinced. Utah Rep. Mark Wheatley (D-Murray), who voted against Ray's idea, said ultimately it won't solve the issues at hand.

"We are going backward here in Utah when we should be making progress. This is not a proactive approach. This is reactionary. We are not proposing real solutions. We are hiding behind outdated and ineffective policies," said Wheatley, according to a KLS-TV report.

Other critics and opponents, including the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, spoke out against Ray's proposal and the death penalty in general.

"We don't believe there's a humane way to execute anyone," Jean Hill, government liaison for the Diocese said. "Putting people behind a wall to shoot someone is not humane."

Oklahoma shows off its new execution chamber, just in time for world anti-death penalty day. Read more here.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields