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SLCo DA building coalition of prosecutors to end death penalty in Utah

Posted at 3:06 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 18:44:37-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill is building a coalition of prosecutors from across the state to persuade the Utah State Legislature to end the death penalty.

Gill has been involved in negotiating an upcoming bill to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a tiered system of sentencing that includes a new 45 years-to-life in prison, in addition to 25-to-life and life without parole for aggravated murder.

But in an interview with FOX 13 on Monday, Gill stopped short of saying his office would no longer seek the death penalty in aggravated murder cases, like the Utah County Attorney has done.

"I can’t serve as a veto of one against the legislature," he said. "But here is an opportunity for us to recognize we have been going down the wrong path. So we, of course, take very seriously every such case that comes there and thankfully, we’ve been able to settle all of our cases without the need [for] the death penalty there."

Salt Lake County prosecutes the most aggravated murder cases in the state. Gill conceded that under his administration, prosecutors have rarely sought a death penalty certification. In the instances where the DA's office has, defendants have pleaded guilty to receive a life without parole sentence.

"I personally have opposed the death penalty. I don’t believe in it," he said, adding: "It may make us feel good as a society, but it’s an antiquated model which can actually perpetuate injustice and not bring the closure or end to victims of such crimes."

The bill, introduced last week, is sponsored by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The coalition of prosecutors Gill is compiling to lobby for the death penalty repeal is bipartisan (Gill is a Democrat).

"This is a tool the legislature has given to us and it’s an antiquated tool," the district attorney said of the death penalty. "And it is one we should not be applying and here’s an opportunity for us to change that."

Supporters of abolishing the death penalty are feeling confident about their odds on Capitol Hill when the bill is considered in the 2022 legislative session. The bill has the backing of civil liberties groups, religious organizations and now some prosecutors. In an effort to win over opponents, the 45-to-life sentence was suggested — as was keeping the seven people already on death row facing execution.

"I think this recognizes that and for the first time and creates the right time for consensus to occur," Gill said.