Firing squad bill signed into law

SALT LAKE CITY – Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill Monday making the firing squad an alternative for capital punishment if drugs needed for lethal injection are not available. The bill is one of 528 that passed during the 2015 session of the Utah Legislature.

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House Bill 11, Death Penalty Procedure Amendments, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, establishes the firing squad as a secondary method for executions in the event the drugs necessary for lethal injection cannot be obtained 30 or more days prior to the date specified on a death warrant. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, was the Senate sponsor.

Ray noted during the legislative session that the drugs used for lethal injection have been supplied by European companies. These companies have stopped selling the drugs to the states out of a protest to the death penalty, he said.

Though the firing squad has been approved as a backup measure, lethal injection remains the primary method for carrying out executions in Utah.

There has been opposition to the bill, though in a statement issued Monday, Marty Carpenter, spokesman for Herbert, said those objections have largely been centered around the death penalty itself and not how it is carried out.

Those who voiced opposition to this bill are primarily arguing against capital punishment in general and that decision has already been made in our state,” Carpenter said on behalf of the governor.

“We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” Carpenter said. “However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah started a petition asking Herbert to veto the bill.

“The EU is refusing to provide America with the drugs required to carry out lethal injections on moral grounds, and with the history of botched executions this past year, states are getting creative with their execution methods,” the ACLU of Utah wrote on the online petition page. “What’s next, will we return to drawing and quartering as a form of punishment? Perhaps beheading?”

Currently, 34 states use capital punishment. All those states use lethal injection as the primary method of execution. Eight states have electrocution as a secondary method for execution; four use the gas chamber; three use hanging; and two use the firing squad.

The bill passed the state House of Representatives on Feb. 13 and the state Senate on March 10.

In the Senate, Sens. Evan Vickers, Steve Urquhart, David Hinkins and Ralph Oakerland each voted in favor of HB 11.

In the House, Reps. Brad Last, Don Ipson, Michael Noel and John Westwood voted in favor of the bill; Reps. V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard voted against the bill; and Rep. Merrill Nelson did not vote on the bill.

Herbert signed 55 bills Monday, bringing the total number of signed bills to 102 of the total 528 bills passed during the 2015 session of the Utah Legislative.

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