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Death penalty: A difficult decision for Utah prosecutors

Posted at 11:46 PM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 01:46:27-04

SALT LAKE CITY – A confessed killer avoided the death penalty after pleading guilty to murder.

Shaun French admitted to killing 15-year-old Baleigh Bagshaw in her Salt Lake City home in 2018.

French was facing the death penalty, but that punishment was taken off the table with his guilty plea.

Before delivering the life sentence Tuesday, Judge Paul Parker asked French if he had anything to say.

French responded, “No, sir.”

Loved ones of Baleigh were inside the courtroom for the conclusion of this case. Her mom said this outcome will give the family some closure and a chance to heal.

“I went from having a 15-year-old to being an empty nester,” Shawna Bagshaw said. “I see my daughter’s friends going to school now and it just hurts that she is not going off to her senior year in high school. I won’t see those great things happen that she was destined to do.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill prosecuted this case. In cases of this magnitude, he works with the family members of victims to reach a conclusion that will deliver justice for their loved ones.

“One thing we are clear is that nothing we do will ever return their loved one to them,” Gill said. “At the end of the day, it’s a decision I make. It’s a decision I own.”

That decision is on whether or not to pursue the death penalty.

In Utah, death penalty convictions are rare. Gill says it is one of the toughest calls he ever has to make.

“The honest answer is, I struggle with it as every good prosecutor should. Those prosecutors who cavalierly reach for it, I don’t think appreciate the responsibility of what that is,” Gill said. “I don’t approach this lightly. I struggle with it, but it is the law we have.”

Currently, seven inmates are housed on death row in the Utah State Prison. Most of those convictions date back to the 1980s and 1990s.

Several attempts to abolish the death penalty have failed in the Utah State Legislature.

“They were going to run it in 2020 but couldn’t find a sponsor,” said Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clinton) who supports capital punishment. “You do that kind of a crime, there has to be a penalty.”

Ray believes Utah uses the death penalty in only the most extreme circumstances.

“Some states execute more people in a month than we have on death row here,” Ray said. “We save it for the very heinous type of crimes. These guys on death row in Utah, it’s not because they sang too loud in the choir on Sunday. It’s because they are monsters.”

While Gill has filed for the death penalty in several cases, none of those have ever concluded with a death penalty conviction.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 34 of 50 states have either abolished the death penalty or haven’t carried out an execution in more than 10 years.