Bill to repeal death penalty in Utah passes Senate committee

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St. George – A bill to repeal the death penalty in Utah has taken its first step by clearing a judiciary committee and moving to the full Senate.

Sponsored by Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, SB 189 would remove the punishment for first-degree felony aggravated murder within the state beginning May 10, 2016. Only crimes in which the death penalty has been handed down as a judgment prior to that date would move forward to execution. Capital cases currently being prosecuted would not be affected.

There are currently nine inmates on death row in Utah.


Text of the proposed amendments: 2016’s Senate Bill 189 – Death Penalty Amendments – Introduced 20160218


The bill passed the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in a 5-2 vote Tuesday with a favorable recommendation.

According to the Associated Press, Urquhart said his bill may be a long shot in conservative Utah, yet he hopes arguments about the cost related to the death penalty, among other concerns, helps garner support for repealing it.

“The reality is we don’t have a death penalty, we’re just spending an awful amount of money so that these people can become famous and thumb their noses at the families of the victims,” Urquhart said after introducing the legislation earlier this month, according to Fox 13 News.

According to fiscal notes related to the bill, it costs the state up to $1.6 million annually for each individual inmate on death row. With nine inmates facing capital punishment, the overall cost to the state goes up to around $14.4 million a year.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah supports the measure.

“Life in prison is a far better alternative to the death penalty,” the ACLU of Utah stated on its website. “It is a severe sentence that both keeps us safe and protects against wrongful executions. It is a swift sentence which is often preferred by victims’ families over the years of mandatory appeals associated with death sentences.”

Objections to the death penalty have also included concerns over botched executions and wrongful convictions.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of killing,” Urquhart said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s not our place. It’s wrong for us to assume that because we aren’t infallible.”

Republican Sen. Mark Madsen supports the legislation for the same reason. He was among the committee members who voted to push the bill forward.

“If I knew they were guilty, I would have no moral compunction whatsoever pulling the trigger, pulling the switch, whatever it is, but I don’t have that level of confidence in government,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s an irreversible error.”

Two Republicans voting against the measure said they think Utah needs to keep the option out of respect of the family members of victims and as an added measure of justice against horrific crimes.

Other supporters of the death penalty include Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who sponsored legislation last year that made the firing squad a viable alternative to lethal injection if the drugs needed are not available.

Sometimes capital punishment is more than a deterrent, it’s justice,” Ray told Fox 13 News. “And sometimes for a family to have closure, that’s the type of justice we need.”

This year Ray is sponsoring legislation that would add human trafficking to the list offenses punishable by death should the victim involved die.

Whether or not Urquhart’s bill survives the Senate floor remains to be seen.

Last October, during his monthly news conference on KUED, Gov. Gary Herbert said he supported the death penalty. He also said he believes the majority of Utahns support the death penalty as well. However, the governor said his own support of capital punishment has certain parameters.

It should be extremely rare and be done for the most heinous of crimes,” Herbert said.

“Secondly, the process should be in fact, streamlined,” the governor said. “It is not right to have someone on death row for 20, 25, 30 years. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Three of the nine death-row inmates in Utah have been there for 30 years. Utah is currently one of 31 states where the death penalty remains on the books.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • radioviking February 27, 2016 at 8:51 am

    My first concern with Utah is the fact that the firing squad is directly connected with the old Mormon leader Brigham Young’s teachings about “blood atonement”. (See The Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, page 247, and also pages 53-54, 219-220 in the same volume). A truly disturbing doctrine which still influences many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have personally grown up in the culture for over 30 years. I have been taught this doctrine. Even though later prophets and leaders have denounced the doctrine (President Spencer W Kimball and Bruce R McConkie especially), the idea is still holding strong in the minds and hearts of people.

    .Brigham Young also taught that he and the Mormons “live above the law…” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, page 361)! By the way, this is in direct contradiction with the LDS command to “obey the laws of the land” (12th Articles of Faith and the Doctrine and Covenants section 58:21) How does any one counter that? How can any good morality or ethical system come out of such an attitude, belief, and slippery justification as taught by a “prophet of God”? That is at the heart of the problem. Utah needs to come into the 21st century. Wow, so much to say here…

  • 42214 February 27, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Please don’t repeal the death penalty. Executions are one of the few pleasures left in out society.

  • 42214 February 27, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    The only thing cruel and unusual about the death penalty is it takes too long to carry out the sentence. Why is death row full of murderers we feed for 20 plus years? I don’t know anything about blood atonement or religious BS. When you kill a person with malice and forethought you forfeited your right to live.

  • sagemoon February 29, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Utah is taking another step toward the modern world and becoming a “think for yourself” state. Good for you, Utah.

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