Bill to reinstate firing squad as execution option passes Utah House

Posted at 12:14 PM, Feb 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- After a dramatic debate that ended with House guards physically escorting lawmakers to vote, a bill that brings back the firing squad as a death penalty option has advanced in the Utah State Legislature.

House Bill 11, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, would bring back the firing squad as a backup method to lethal injection. Ray said the cocktail of drugs used in lethal injection have been difficult to obtain, and other states have seen botched executions.

"If we cannot get the drug cocktail, then we will revert back to the firing squad," he told the House during a debate Friday morning.

But other lawmakers objected.

"The death penalty is not fairly given across socioeconomic status, race or gender lines. It is fraught with errors," said Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City.

Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, spoke out against the death penalty, until he was interrupted by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

"This is not the death penalty argument. We have that already," Noel said. "I would appreciate it if the good representative from Davis County would stick to the topic!"

As the vote was cast, the house locked 35-35 on it. Rep. Ray invoked a "call of the House," where lawmakers were summoned back to the chamber to vote. House Speaker Greg Hughes ordered the sergeant-at-arms to find lawmakers and bring them back to the House floor.

The men in green coats escorted lawmakers back to the House chamber to vote, bringing cheers from some as the "aye" votes ticked up. The bill ultimately passed, 39-34.

HB11 now goes on to the Senate, where leaders on Friday would not speculate as to its chances. Ray told FOX 13 he believes he has the votes to get it all the way to the governor, whom he believed would sign it.

"This isn’t a discussion on do we have a death penalty, this is a discussion on how we carry out the death penalty we have?" he said after the vote was cast.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which opposes HB11, said it sent the wrong message about Utah to the world.

"The image of putting a target on someone’s heart and shooting them, that image just says we treat people as target practice in Utah," said Jean Hill, the diocese's government liaison. "That’s not how we want to be as a state."

H.B. 11 now goes to the Senate for consideration. Click here to track the status of the bill.

Utah did away with the firing squad as a primary method of execution in 2003, but some death row inmates are grandfathered in. The last firing squad execution was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010.

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