Bill to repeal death penalty advances in Utah Senate

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SALT LAKE CITY – Legislation that would repeal the death penalty in Utah received preliminary approval in a vote before the Utah Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 189, Death Penalty Amendments, passed the Senate in a 20-9 vote and now moves on to the House. Prior to the Senate vote, SB 189 passed a Senate judiciary committee in a 3-2 vote Friday.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, told the Senate before the vote that the death penalty is a costly path for the state. Utah currently has nine inmates on death row and the cost to the state is up to $1.6 million per inmate per year. Some death row inmates have been kept in prison for decades while pursuing appeals.

Families of the victims, on the other hand, have to endure a drawn out appeals process that does little to provide closure, Urquhart said.

“The families are tortured,” he said. “They are further victimized. There’s no closure, no time to heal.”

Urquhart said members of the Senate likely know the names of the inmates on death row, yet not the names of their victims. Inmates who spend decades in prison become famous, he said, while the victim’s family continues to suffer.

Under SB 189, effective May 10, 2016, capital punishment would be eliminated for the crime of first-degree felony aggravated murder. Life in prison without the possibility of parole or 25 years to life would remain as punishments for aggravated murder.

Once a sentence is handed down under the new law, Urquhart argued, a convict is locked away and the victim’s families would gain the closure they need.

Urquhart also repeated previous statements that he doesn’t believe the government does anything perfectly.

Yet we’re content to arrogate to ourselves the godlike power of life and death,” he said.

Among one of the central arguments against the death penalty is that of wrong conviction – the possibility that an innocent person could be sent to death row. Urquhart said that was also a valid reason to repeal the state’s death penalty

No discussions or debate followed Urquhart’s comments in the Senate, although he said there had been much debate over the matter already.

As a vote was called, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, told the floor he wanted to explain his vote.

Thatcher, who sat on the judiciary committee that forwarded Urquhart’s bill, said he was conflicted by it. He believes there should be an ultimate punishment for those who commit egregious and heinous crimes, and yet, the families of the victims must be considered.

“I wish that I could find fault with the presentation and the position of the good senator from St. George,” Thatcher said. “But the reality is – he’s right. Ultimately we have to put the victims first, and delayed justice – decades delayed justice – is not justice.

SB 189 is in the best interest of providing the families with closure, Thatcher said, in voting for the bill.

While the bill would repeal the application of capital punishment in future cases if it passes, the nine inmates currently on death row would still have their sentences carried out.

Senators from Southern Utah who voted for SB 189: Sens. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, and Urquhart.

Senates from Southern Utah who voted against SB 189: Sens. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, and Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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

 

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9 Comments

  • Loyal Opposition March 2, 2016 at 1:33 am

    I feel that the time has come to repeal the death penalty. Due to the use of DNA evidence, several capital crimes have been overturned. A person could have been killed for a crime that he didn’t commit, and the guilty party would have got off scott free. Image the state being charged over a million dollars to keep the “criminal” locked up while years go on of appeal after appeal. It’s a poor use of the taxpayers money. The senator is correct, government NEVER is perfect. The states are in a quandary to try to come up with a supplier of the drugs to execute the convicted criminals. They’re scared of being sued in the future for the deaths. I don’t blame them. When may never come up with a supplier. Now we’re going back to the firing squad and becoming the laughing stock of the nation for going back to the days of the old west. I have always supported the guillotine, myself, but that makes such a mess to be cleaned up. Yes, I think that it is time. Let’s get rid of the death penalty all together.

    • Accountable March 2, 2016 at 6:45 pm

      Especially now that we have DNA, the death penalty should be a death penalty exacted immediately after being found guilty. No protracted appeals process. Death. And, no drugs, by firing squad or hanging — simple and inexpensive.

      The death penalty appeals process is simply a way of providing lawyers a guaranteed living for 20+ years. And, liberals get to whine and protest in a misguided objection to “killing” convicted murderers who are on death row because they have murdered innocent people — this is such a disgusting affront to the families of those who were tortured and murdered by these fiends. Mind-boggling stupidity and heartless treatment of the survivors of the monsters.

      • Rainbow Dash March 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm

        I agree with you on this one Accountable. The trial process in capitol cases is usually years in the first place. More then enough time to find evidence that would exonerate a truly innocent person. Yes there may be 1 or 2 people who slip through the cracks but in all actuality, 99.9% of prisoners are guilty of the crimes to which they were accused.

    • Utahguns March 2, 2016 at 10:41 pm

      Completely disagree.
      Maybe you can have withholdings taken out of your check to fund the inmates stay…

  • Common Sense March 2, 2016 at 6:45 am

    How in the world does it cost 1.6 million to keep someone locked up in a cell?

  • sagemoon March 2, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Wow, I am becoming impressed with Urquhart. He’s going to end his term pursuing legislation that makes sense. I just might miss him. I wonder if he planning to run for another office? Governor maybe?

  • Proud Rebel March 2, 2016 at 9:33 am

    As John Wayne would say, “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.”
    But on a serious note here, while I personally do believe in the death penalty, it really has become, financially, a huge burden to the taxpayer. OTOH, which is actually the more severe punishment, to be put to death and put out of your misery, (put down like a rabid dog,) or to be confined for the rest of your life. Sadly, being confined for the rest of your life is not such a bad option for prisoners who have learned to work the system in prison.
    Or we could do what England did, and just ship all the convicts over to Australia…

  • 42214 March 2, 2016 at 11:16 am

    If we abolish the death penalty, can we at least execute everyone now on death row and then start from scratch.

  • Utahguns March 2, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    How in the world does it cost $1.6 million to keep someone locked up in a cell?
    Easy….free meals, free room, free education, free medical….free, free, free….the “politically correct” and the liberal lawmakers make sure we just pay for it.

    * Heck, a 308 round is under $2.00 (Firing squad good, has worked for hundreds of years))
    * A good rope is about $5.00…Tall tree is free. (Hanging is good, has worked for thousands of years)

    If someone is on death row it should be a 72 hour stay before they meet their maker.
    Period.

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