Bill to repeal Utah's death penalty fails to move forward

Posted at 8:14 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 23:26:20-05

SALT LAKE CITY — After hours of discussion, presentation and heart-wrenching testimony, a bill that would have repealed Utah's death penalty failed to move forward from committee on Monday night.

HB-147 would have prohibited the state from seeking the death penalty for aggravated murder committed after May 4, 2022, and would have added a new possible sentence for aggravated murder of 45 years to life.

A vote from 11 embers of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee kept the bill out of the house floor by a slim 6-5 margin.

“This is not a matter of if, it is when the time is right, Utah will move forward," said bill sponsor Rep. Lowry Snow (R-St. George) after the hearing. "23 states already have; that’s a growing number.”

READ: High-profile murder victims' family urges Utah legislature to abolish the death penalty

An overwhelming major of public testimony came in opposition of the bill to repeal the death penalty. Families and loved ones who were impacted directly the crimes committed by active inmates on Utah's death row testified and spoke out.

“If this law passes, potentially this could parole the man that killed my mom," said Matt Hunsaker, whose mother Maureen was kidnapped from a Taylorsville gas station and murdered in 1986. “How much is your family member worth?" he asked members of the committee.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill spoke on behalf of the bill.

“Right now, we have a death penalty that is antiquated, misapplied and it makes us feel good but it does nothing for victims," Gill said. “Going forward, it starts to give hope to victims in a way that we do not give them right now.”

The Utah Attorney General's Office took a stance opposing the bill and mentioned pieces of misinformation about the bill and the presentation that alluded to the "cost" of the death penalty.

“Repealing capital punishment does not leave punishment for those cases that are just absolutely heinous. It also doesn’t take into account the reality that some murders aren’t warehouse-able. You cannot put some people in maximum security prison and expect them not to continue to commit a murder," said Andrew Peterson, Capitol Case Coordinator for the Utah Attorney General's Office. “[The death penalty] has been used very sparingly, and if you look at people who have received death sentences in Utah, it is a rogues gallery of the worst of the worst.”

There are seven inmates on Utah's death row. The most recent execution came in 2010.