POLITICS

Utah Advances Plan For Executions By Firing Squad

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ten years after banning the use of firing squads in state executions, Utah lawmakers on Wednesday endorsed a proposal to allow the practice again to avoid problems with lethal-injection drugs.

The proposal from Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield would call for a firing squad if the state cannot obtain the lethal injection drugs 30 days before the scheduled execution.

Utah dropped firing squads out of concern about the media attention, but Ray said it's the most humane way to execute someone because the inmate dies instantly.

"We have to have an option," Ray told reporters Wednesday. "If we go hanging, if we go to the guillotine, or we go to the firing squad, electric chair, you're still going to have the same circus atmosphere behind it. So is it really going to matter?"

After a 20-minute discussion, an interim panel of Utah lawmakers approved the idea on a 9-2 vote Wednesday. The proposal still needs to go through the full legislative process once lawmakers convene for their annual session in January.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, a Democrat from Murray, voted against the measure because he said Utah doesn't have a problem that needs to be fixed.

Santaquin Republican Rep. Marc Roberts, who cast the other opposing vote, said he didn't think the proposal was needed and is unsure of his own view on capital punishment.

Under current Utah law, death by firing squad is only an option for criminals sentenced to death before 2004. It was last used in 2010.

Ray said his proposal gives Utah flexibility if it's unable to obtain the drugs needed in a lethal injection.

For years, states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates, but European drugmakers have refused to sell them to prisons and corrections departments out of opposition to the death penalty.

That move has led states to use different types, combinations and doses of lethal drugs, but those methods have been challenged in court.

Because of the challenges with the drugs and prolonged executions earlier this year in Oklahoma and Arizona, lawmakers in Utah and elsewhere are looking for alternatives.

Critics have said the firing squads are not without risks and will renew the intense media attention Utah had wanted to avoid.

Despite being restrained, an inmate could still move or the shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, painful death, according to the Washington, D.C.,-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

One such case appears to have happened in Utah's territorial days back in 1879. According to newspaper accounts, a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson's heart and it took him 27 minutes to die.

Utah stopped allowing inmates to choose a firing-squad execution in 2004, citing the excessive media attention it gave prisoners. Those sentenced to death before the law changed still have the option of choosing it.

It was last used in 2010 when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles.

Gardner was the third person to die by firing squad after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Several other inmates on Utah's death row have opted to die by gunfire, but they are all years away from exhausting the appeals of their death sentences, according to the state attorney general's office.

Jean Hill with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City spoke Wednesday in opposition to the proposal and the death penalty in general, telling lawmakers that there is no humane way to kill someone.

"These may be heinous crimes that have been committed, and the idea of revenge is a normal human emotion," Hill said. "But the state's role is not to take revenge on people."

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • Lethal Injection
    Until 2010, most states used a three-drug combination: an anesthetic (pentobarbital or sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent
    AP
    Until 2010, most states used a three-drug combination: an anesthetic (pentobarbital or sodium thiopental), a paralytic agent (pancuronium bromide) to paralyze the muscle system, and a drug to stop the heart (potassium chloride). Recently, European pharmaceutical companies have refused to sell drugs to the U.S. for use in lethal injections, requiring states to find new, untested alternatives.
  • Gas Chamber
    Gas chambers, like this one pictured at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo., were first used in the
    AP
    Gas chambers, like this one pictured at the former Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Mo., were first used in the U.S. in 1924. In the procedure, an inmate is sealed inside an airtight chamber which is then filled with toxic hydrogen cyanide gas. Oxygen starvation ultimately leads to death, but the inmate does not immediately lose consciousness.
  • Electric Chair
    The first electric chair was used in 1890. Electrodes attached to an inmate's body deliver a current of electricity. Sometime
    AP
    The first electric chair was used in 1890. Electrodes attached to an inmate's body deliver a current of electricity. Sometimes more than one jolt is required.
  • Hanging
    Hanging was used as the primary method of execution in the U.S. until the electric chair's invention in 1890. Death is typica
    AP
    Hanging was used as the primary method of execution in the U.S. until the electric chair's invention in 1890. Death is typically caused by dislocation of the vertebrae or asphyxiation, but in cases when the rope is too long, the inmate can sometimes be decapitated. If too short, the inmate can take up to 45 minutes to die.
  • Firing Squad
    This Old West-style execution method dates back to the invention of firearms. In a typical scenario in the U.S., the inmate i
    AP
    This Old West-style execution method dates back to the invention of firearms. In a typical scenario in the U.S., the inmate is strapped to a chair. Five anonymous marksmen stand 20 feet away, aim rifles at the convict's heart, and shoot. One rifle is loaded with blanks.
  • Beheading
    Decapitation has been used in capital punishment for thousands of years. Above is the chopping block used for <a href="http:/
    Wikimedia Commons
    Decapitation has been used in capital punishment for thousands of years. Above is the chopping block used for beheadings at the Tower of London.
  • Guillotine
    Invented in France in the late 18th century during the French Revolution, the <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/
    Kauko via Wikimedia Commons
    Invented in France in the late 18th century during the French Revolution, the guillotine was designed to be an egalitarian means of execution. It severed the head more quickly and efficiently than beheading by sword.
  • Hanging, Drawing and Quartering
    A punishment for men convicted of high treason,<a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/171149/drawing-and-quarteri
    Wikimedia Commons
    A punishment for men convicted of high treason, "hanging, drawing and quartering" was used in England between the 13th and 19th centuries. Men were dragged behind a horse, then hanged, disemboweled, beheaded, and chopped or torn into four pieces.
  • Slow Slicing
    Also called <a href="http://www.pratyeka.org/books/australian-in-china/" target="_blank">"death by a thousand cuts,"</a> this
    Carter Cutlery/Wikimedia Commons
    Also called "death by a thousand cuts," this execution method was used in China from roughly A.D. 900 until it was banned in 1905. The slicing took place for up to three days. It was used as punishment for treason and killing one's parents.
  • Boiling Alive
    <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1333751/boiling" target="_blank">Death by boiling</a> goes back to the fir
    Wikimedia Commons
    Death by boiling goes back to the first century A.D., and was legal in the 16th century in England as punishment for treason. This method of execution involved placing the person into a large cauldron containing a boiling liquid such as oil or water.
  • Crucifixion
    <a href="http://civilliberty.about.com/od/capitalpunishment/ig/Types-of-Executions/Death-by-Crucifixion.htm" target="_blank">
    Wikimedia Commons
    Crucifixion goes back to around the 6th century B.C.used today in Sudan. For this method of execution, a person is tied or nailed to a cross and left to hang. Death is slow and painful, ranging from hours to days.
  • Burning Alive
    Records show societies <a href="http://iws.collin.edu/mbailey/hammurabi's%20laws.htm" target="_blank">burning criminals alive
    Pat Canova via Getty Images
    Records show societies burning criminals alive as far back as the 18 century B.C. under Hammurabi's Code of Laws in Babylonia. It has been used as punishment for sexual deviancy, witchcraft, treason and heresy.
  • Live Burial
    Execution by burial goes back to 260 B.C. in ancient China, when 400,000 were reportedly buried alive by the Qin dynasty. Dep
    Antoine Wiertz/Wikimedia Commons
    Execution by burial goes back to 260 B.C. in ancient China, when 400,000 were reportedly buried alive by the Qin dynasty. Depending on the size of the coffin (assuming there is one), it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to several hours for a person to run out of oxygen.
  • Stoning
    This ancient method of execution continues to be <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/25/us-afghanistan-rights-idU
    Wikimedia Commons
    This ancient method of execution continues to be used as punishment for adultery today.
  • Crushing By Elephant
    This method was commonly used for many centuries in South and Southeast Asia, in which an <a href="http://books.google.no/boo
    Wikimedia Commons
    This method was commonly used for many centuries in South and Southeast Asia, in which an elephant would crush and dismember convicts as a punishment for treason.
  • Flaying
    Records show <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=pFYy5fcvfMoC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=punishment+skinning+alive&source=bl
    Michelangelo/Wikimedia Commons
    Records show flaying, the removal of skin from the body, was used as far back as the 9th century B.C.
  • Impalement
    Records show this execution practice used as far back as the 18th century B.C., where a <a href="http://books.google.com/book
    Wikimedia Commons
    Records show this execution practice used as far back as the 18th century B.C., where a person is penetrated through the center of their body with a stake or pole.