- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah lawmaker’s proposal to resurrect the use of firing squads would restore a gruesome relic of the state’s Wild West past, a group opposed to capital punishment said Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s sort of tragic that in this day and age we’re debating different methods of killing someone instead of calling into question whether we should be killing people at all,” Ralph Dellapiana, with Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said at a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol.

Dellapiana was joined by about 20 protesters, including the brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner, the last Utah inmate to be executed by firing squad in 2010.

Randy Gardner, of Salt Lake City, said Tuesday that his brother’s execution and the media frenzy surrounding it was devastating for his family.

“We feel like it was premeditated murder, right down to the time and the day and the minute that they executed him,” Gardner said.

Utah eliminated the firing squad in 2004, but criminals sentenced to death before that time still have the option of choosing it as a method of execution.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was sentenced to death in 1985 for fatally shooting an attorney, was executed in June 2010 by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles.

“I didn’t witness my brother’s execution, but if you take someone and tie them up to a chair and put a hood over their head and fire four bullets into their chest, it’s pretty cruel and unusual punishment,” Randy Gardner said.

The lawmaker sponsoring the bill, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, has argued that the firing squad’s trained marksmen offer a swift, more humane death than lethal injection, with less risk of complications.

For years, states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates, but European drugmakers have refused to sell the chemicals to prisons and corrections departments out of opposition to the death penalty.

That has led states to use different types, combinations and doses of lethal drugs, but those methods have been challenged in court.

Because of the challenges with the drugs and prolonged executions earlier last year in Oklahoma and Arizona, lawmakers in Utah and elsewhere are looking for alternatives.

Despite being restrained, an inmate could still move or the shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, painful death, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

One such case appears to have happened in Utah’s territorial days back in 1879. According to newspaper accounts, a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson’s heart and it took him 27 minutes to die.

Ray said Tuesday that that those protesting his proposal don’t understand that there are measures in Utah law that could bring back the firing squad anyway.

The 2004 law taking away firing squads as an option for condemned inmates left in one exception: If a court finds that execution by lethal injection is unconstitutional, the law says Utah will revert to the firing squad.

“So I’m just going one step further and saying without the drug cocktail, also we revert back,” Ray said.

His bill has not yet had a hearing this session, but Ray expects that will happen in a week or so.

It’s unclear what kind of broader support the measure will have among lawmakers. In November, an interim committee approved the idea on a 9-2 vote.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he doesn’t have a position on the legislation but there have been “some terrible stories about the way that capital punishment has been administered” through lethal injection.

“There’s some concerns that there could be a quicker way or a more efficient way, and a way that, if you’re going to have a law that allows for the death penalty, you do it so that that person isn’t suffering unnecessarily,” Hughes said. “And I think that there’s an argument that, that might be the case.”



HB 11: https://1.usa.gov/1EnOKDb

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