Utah has passed a bill that would make it the only state to allow firing squads for carrying out a death penalty if there is a shortage of execution drugs, reported The Associated Press.
The 18-10 vote by the state Senate comes as states struggle to obtain lethal injection drugs amid a nationwide shortage.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield, touted the measure as being a more humane form of execution. Ray argued that a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths that have occurred in botched lethal injections.
Opponents disagree, saying firing squads are a cruel holdover from the state's wild West days and will earn the state international condemnation.
Whether it will become law in the conservative Western state is unclear: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, won't say if he'll sign the measure. His spokesman, Marty Carpenter, did issue a statement this week acknowledging that the method would give Utah a legitimate backup method if execution drugs are unavailable.
It would reinstate the use of firing squads more than a decade after the state abandoned the practice.
Utah is one of several states to seek out new forms of capital punishment after a botched Oklahoma lethal injection last year and one in Arizona that took nearly two hours for the condemned man to die.
Legislation to allow firing squads has been introduced in Arkansas this year. In Wyoming, a measure to allow firing squads if the lethal drugs aren't available died. In Oklahoma, lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow the state to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates.
Utah's proposal keeps lethal injection as the primary method of execution, but it allows for the state to use firing squads if the state cannot obtain lethal injection drugs.
Utah's last execution was by a firing squad in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles. The state has carried out three executions by firing squad since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, says a firing squad is not a foolproof execution method because the inmate could move or shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, more painful death.
One such case appears to have happened in Utah's territorial days back in 1879, when a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson's heart and it took him 27 minutes to die, according to newspaper accounts.
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Lauren Saene Key - 8/29/1996 - 11/8/2000
3 weeks ago