In a landmark decision handed down by the Utah House of Representatives, a 39-34 vote has decided to resurrect the firing squad as a method of execution. The proposal is due to be voted on in the Senate soon, where many believe the voting will be just as close. The proposal is controversial, to say the least.
Republican Representative Paul Ray, from Clearfield, is a sponsor of the proposal. He argues that an execution done by trained marksmen is cheaper, easier, and due to the instantaneous nature of a death by firing squad, more humane than other forms of execution.
He also argues that a death by firing squad has a lower margin for error than, for instance, a botched lethal injection, which can draw out an execution. Others have criticized the bill, saying that it is a gruesome tradition and a relic of Utah’s “Wild West” past.
Firing squad executions have not been issued as a sentence since 2004. However, because some managed to be sentenced before the law came into effect, the last firing squad execution occurred in 2010.This new proposal comes after difficulties acquiring the drugs to perform lethal injections, which have long been the standard method for executions. For years, prisons have used the same three-drug cocktail to execute inmates.
However, European drug manufacturers have become increasingly more prone to refusing to sell said drugs to correctional institutions as a way of protesting the death penalty. The proposed bill would come in to effect if a prison were unable to secure drugs to perform an injection thirty days prior to an execution date.
The Washington DC-based Death Penalty Information Center; a group that opposes the death penalty has refuted the claim that a firing squad death is quicker and more humane. They cite an execution that took place in Utah’s Territorial times, back in 1879, where a William Wilkerson moved slightly before the firing, causing the bullet to not hit him directly in the heart. His death took 27 minutes, one of the longest recorded executions in history.
Many oppose this bill, and while they are dismayed that it passed in the house, they find it encouraging that it passed by such a slim margin. Anna Brower of the American Civil Liberties Union was quoted as saying; “The fact that it was so close in our state is really exciting.
I think there are legislators who, while they may have complicated feelings about the death penalty, understand that this particular method is not good advertising for Utah.”
Cara Tangaro, Salt Lake City, Utah Criminal Defense Attorney