Firing squad bill narrowly survives committee

Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-05 18:03:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A bill that would bring back the firing squad as a method of execution in Utah narrowly passed a committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 11, which would make the firing squad a backup method of execution if lethal injection is not available, passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on a 5-4 vote. Its sponsor, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, expressed confidence the bill would make it past a pending House floor vote and be signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert.

Ray said he was running the bill in light of botched executions in other states, pending legal challenges over lethal injection and concerns that the Utah Dept. of Corrections does not have the lethal drug cocktail for an execution.

The bill was met with opposition by death penalty opponents, who testified against it on Wednesday afternoon.

"This is a missed opportunity to do something better than keep finding ways for the government to kill people," said Anna Brower of the ACLU of Utah.

The Salt Lake Catholic Diocese read a long list of churches and other faiths who oppose the death penalty and HB11. Ralph Delapiana of Utahns Against the Death Penalty testified that it would be at least three or four years for the next execution in Utah (depending on the length of appeals). The next inmate to die would be condemned killer Ron Lafferty, he said.

Utah did away with the firing squad as a primary method of execution in 2003. The last inmate to die by firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010.

MORE: At least 3 inmates in Utah want to die by firing squad

After the narrow vote, Rep. Ray agreed that a larger discussion about the death penalty should be held. But he said his bill was not about that.

"I think that’s a legitimate discussion we need to have going forward, if we need to keep the death penalty," he told FOX 13. "But this bill just says we have it, let’s have a backup so we don’t spend millions of dollars in court costs trying to adjudicate whether we can use this drug cocktail."