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Utah Attorney General's Office opposes death penalty repeal bill

Posted at 5:54 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 20:02:29-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to repeal the death penalty in Utah will likely get a hearing, House Speaker Brad Wilson told reporters on Friday.

The bill has been stuck in the powerful Rules committee, which determines if bills go forward in the legislative session. However, Speaker Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he remains opposed to ending capital punishment in Utah.

On Friday, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes' office told FOX 13 News it will oppose the bill by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, and Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, to "repeal and replace" the death penalty with a 45-to-life in prison sentence.

"We need to reserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst," said Thomas Brunker, an assistant attorney general who works on death penalty litigation.

The bill proposes to keep the existing men on death row, but Brunker said there were concerns that may be unconstitutional. A coalition of prosecutors, including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, are trying to persuade the legislature to repeal the death penalty. Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said he will no longer seek it in homicide cases.

Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he was "keeping an open mind" on the death penalty repeal bill and whether Utah should end capital punishment. Sen. McCay said he understood the attorney general's opposition.

"While they may feel that way, it is important to keep in mind it’s a difficult issue. It isn’t easy and there are victims families that have a lot of deal with," he said. "I’m hopeful if we do move forward with repealing the death penalty in the state of Utah, it will be based on policy and it will be based on the fiscal impacts and it will be based on long-term issues related to the death penalty."