Pressure mounts on governor to veto firing squad bill

Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-18 00:16:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Pressure is mounting on Utah Governor Gary Herbert to veto a bill that brings back the firing squad as a method of execution in the state.

On Tuesday, the group Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty marched into the governor's office to present a 6,200-signature petition demanding he veto House Bill 11. The bill reinstates the firing squad as a method of execution, should lethal injection drugs not be available.

"I think it's disgraceful, quite frankly, that here in Utah we are talking about what are the best ways to kill people," said Ralph Dellapiana, the group's founder.

Most of the signatures on the petition are from outside Utah. HB11 has attracted international attention -- and some criticism. The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake has been outspoken in its opposition to the bill.

"It definitely makes Utah look barbaric and Wild West," said Randy Gardner, whose brother was the last man to be executed by firing squad in Utah.

"We shouldn't be shooting our people. It wasn't right that my brother shot somebody and it's not right that we shoot him to show that killing is wrong," Gardner told FOX 13 on Tuesday.

Ronnie Lee Gardner was strapped to a chair and shot to death in 2010 for the murder of an attorney during a brazen courthouse escape attempt in 1985. Utah did away with the firing squad as a method of execution in 2003. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, brought it back after botched lethal injection executions in other states. The Utah State Legislature passed the bill this year.

MORE: Three inmates want to die by firing squad in Utah

In a nod to objections over the death penalty, lawmakers agreed to study whether Utah should continue capital punishment in the interim session. Even though it is years from the next death-row inmate exhausting all appeals, the Utah Department of Corrections has said it does not currently have the drug cocktail needed to carry out a lethal injection.

"Most people in Utah support the death penalty because they think it's cheaper than the alternative, when, in fact, the opposite is true," Dellapiana said. "It costs millions more than having a system without the death penalty, so it's a bad deal for taxpayers and it takes decades to reach an execution, if at all."

Governor Herbert will begin reviewing bills at the end of the week to determine what to sign into law and what to veto. In an interview with FOX 13 on the last night of the legislative session, he indicated that he would sign HB11.

"We've decided right now the current law is, we believe in capital punishment. We have to execute on what the court decree is," the governor said. "Right now, we want lethal injection, but if we can't get the products necessary for lethal injection, we have to have a fallback. That's just the law, and we need to respect the courts and carry out the punishment."