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Firing Squad, Lethal Injection and Utah


Firing Squad

The Utah State Legislature approved a bill, called House Bill 11 (HB 11), Tuesday, allowing execution by firing squad. This is only an option if the drugs for lethal injection are not available. The reason Utah wanted to allow execution by firing squad is because the traditional drugs needed for lethal injection are running low nationwide. If Texas follows through with the two scheduled injections over the next two weeks, their supply will be depleted. Utah does not have any drugs for lethal injections. Death by firing squad would be an alternate solution if the state is unable to obtain the drugs for lethal injection.

In February, Utah’s House of Representatives passed the bill by six votes. Paul Ray was able to win some legislatures over when he showed that there is already a Utah law stating to revert to using the firing squad if death by lethal injection is ever declared unconstitutional. However, the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes the death penalty, says death by firing squad could be a less reliable option. The shooters could miss the heart or the inmate could move and this would cause a slow and painful, inhumane death. In 1879, Utah’s firing squad missed and it took Wallace Wilkerson 27 minutes to die.

Paul Ray sponsored HB 11 believing the firing squad to be faster and more humane than a botched lethal injection. HB 11 would make Utah the first state to use a firing squad for executions. The bill has to be approved by Governor Gary Herbert. At this time it is not certain which way the Governor is leaning. However, the governor’s spokesman commented that a firing squad would be a legitimate alternative backup if the execution drugs were not available.

However, there are those that believe death by firing squad is a step back into the Wild West days. If this bill passes some people believe it will bring international condemnation to Utah. There are also those that believe the state should be looking into whether capital punishment should be used at all. Utah stopped giving death row inmates the option of death by firing squad in 2004. There were inmates sentenced to death row before the law was changed so they will still have the option of death by firing squad. 2010 was the last time Utah executed an inmate by firing squad. There are three more inmates that would prefer to die by firing squad.

The last inmate to die by firing squad was in 2010. Ronnie Lee Gardner’s firing squad consisted of five police officers armed with .30 caliber Winchester rifles. Since the U.S. Supreme Court brought back the death penalty in 1976, Utah has had three firing squad executions. The first inmate executed by firing squad was in 1997 and it was Gary Gilmore.

Many states are seeking to end the death penalty. At the beginning of March, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari (issued from a superior court requesting the review of an inferior court’s proceeding) concerning if Florida’s protocol for death sentencing was constitutional. In February, the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder gave his support to ban the death penalty, depending on the Supreme Court’s decision.

Certiorari was granted in January to ensure Oklahoma’s three-drug execution code was constitutional. In January, the Texas Supreme Court denied pleas to delay the execution of a man who only had an IQ of 67.

Other states are looking for alternate forms of capital punishment due to some faltering lethal injections. Last year, Oklahoma had a botched lethal injection. Also, Arizona had an incident that took a man two hours to die after the lethal injection was given. Legislation for firing squads has been introduced in Arkansas, was shot down in Wyoming and Oklahoma is considering nitrogen gas for executions.

The reason the lethal injection drugs are so hard to come by is because the drugs are manufactured in Europe. The manufacturers are denying the sale of the drugs to prisons and corrections facilities due to their position against the death penalty.

By Jeanette Smith



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Photo courtesy of Andrew Smith – Flickr License