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Utah reinstates ‘humane’ death by firing squad capital punishment

death-by-firing-squad-Utah reinstates ‘humane’ death by firing squad capital punishment

By Nigel Boys

While some lawmakers are discussing whether or not the death penalty should continue, especially after serious concerns with lethal injections, Utah has made sure that even if there is a shortage of drugs to use, they can still execute their condemned prisoners.

Lawmakers have just passed a bill reinstating the firing squad, which makes them the only state allowing this method. The last man whose life ended this way in the state was Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was executed by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles in 2010.

Republican Representative Paul Ray, who sponsored the bill, claimed that not only was it a faster form of execution, but it was more humane than using chemicals which could cause distress for death row inmates, should the lethal injection go wrong.

Utah reinstates ‘humane’ death by firing squad capital punishment

“We would love to get the lethal injection worked out so we can continue with that, but if not, now we have a backup plan,” he added.

However, some have voiced the opinion that reverting back to firing squads—which is something that has been left over from the days of the old Wild West—is not only going back to cruel methods of execution, but will attract international condemnation for Utah.

Calling firing squads a “relic of a more barbaric past,” the director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Ralph Dellapiana, said he believes Utah is taking a “giant step backward.” He added that the legislative body should not be finding alternative ways to end the life of their prisoners, but should instead discuss whether they should continue with the death penalty at all.

However, since the bill will have to be signed by the Republican Governor of the state, Gary Herbert, who is keeping quiet about what he will do if it reaches his desk, it is still unclear whether the bill will become law.

Anna Brower, the representative of Utah’s American Civil Liberties Union, said they are hoping Herbert will refuse to sign the bill because it would make the state look “backwards and backwoods.” However, the governor’s spokesman, Marty Carpenter, said that it would give Utah an alternative method of execution, should lethal drugs become unavailable in the future.

Although the bill made it through the Senate 18-10 with no debate on Tuesday, with four Republicans joining the Democrats who stood in opposition, it only just scraped through the House in February. The House vote had originally been tied, but it passed after additional supporters of the bill were called in to vote.

While Arkansas has also introduced legislation to allow firing squads if lethal drugs are not available, a similar proposal in Wyoming was rejected. Several other states are looking for alternative methods to their death penalty protocols after the botched lethal injection in Arizona last year which took almost two hours to complete. Oklahoma is now considering a proposal that would use nitrogen gas to execute their condemned inmates after a lethal injection last year went wrong.

Although Utah does not presently have any inmates who have been scheduled for execution, they would have to order drugs for any planned death sentence to be carried out in the years to come, according to the head of Utah’s prison system. Reverting to the method of firing squads would allow the state an alternative form of punishment if the current situation with European manufacturers refusing to sell lethal concoctions remains.

During the execution of Gardner in 2010, one of the five rifles given to the police of-ficers contained a blank shell so that no one would know who delivered the shot which terminated his life. After finishing his meal the previous evening — he wanted to fast before the sentence was carried out — Gardner awaited his demise until 12:15 a.m. When asked if he wanted to say any final words just before his execution, he replied “I do not, no,” and he was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m.

Although death by firing squad may appear to be a faster method of execution, it doesn’t always go as planned, according to newspaper reports of a death penalty carried out in 1879. Wallace Wilkerson reportedly took 27 minutes to die when the firing squad missed hitting his heart.

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