Judge signs death warrant to execute Taberon Honie

Posted at 3:45 PM, Jun 10, 2024

CEDAR CITY, Utah — A judge has signed a death warrant setting an execution for Taberon Honie on August 8.

Fifth District Court Judge Jeffrey Wilcox rejected arguments to delay an execution. Honie still has a petition pending before the Utah Supreme Court that could potentially delay any death sentence being carried out.

Honie faces execution for the 1998 sexual assault and murder of his girlfriend's mother, Claudia Benn. Her throat was slit inside her Cedar City home. Iron County prosecutors said the gruesome murder happened in front of her grandchildren.

Much of Monday's hearing focused on a new cocktail of lethal injection drugs the state intends to use to execute Honie. His attorneys argued they are entitled to know more about the drugs being used and how they are administered.

"The Department of Corrections seeks to execute Mr. Honie with an experimental cocktail of lethal injection drugs that have never before been used," said Eric Zuckerman, Honie's defense attorney.

Honie's lawyers also demanded that as a result, state corrections officials must update their execution protocols, while acknowledging that might trigger a new round of litigation.

"The Department of Corrections has consistently maintained that it will not change its execution protocol. And it’s done this because it knows that if it changes or amends its execution protocol? It’ll reset the statute of limitations," Zuckerman argued.

"There’s no reason to update it. There’s no need to update it," countered Dan Bokovoy, an attorney representing Utah's Department of Corrections.

On Friday, the Utah Department of Corrections announced that it has secured a cocktail of drugs necessary to carry out a lethal injection execution — ketamine, fentanyl and potassium chloride. In the past, the agency has said it did not have the required drugs in its possession. Under Utah law, if that is the case, firing squad becomes the default method of execution.

Honie is part of a civil lawsuit challenging Utah's methods and protocols surrounding capital punishment. A group of death row inmates filed the lawsuit. A judge rejected their arguments, but the litigation is currently being appealed to the Utah Supreme Court. That also factored into Judge Wilcox's line of questioning Monday.

"New protocol with a new drug could be the basis for a future 8th Amendment claim?" he asked Bokovoy.

"That’s possible," Bokovoy replied. "But she ruled that they’re on notice that this protocol that other substances could be used. But whether it possibly could? Perhaps."

But when it came to the death warrant itself, Judge Wilcox conceded he was limited by the narrow focus of Utah law. He agreed with the Utah Attorney General's Office, which urged him to set a date for an execution. The judge allowed Honie to once again choose whether to die by lethal injection or firing squad. Honie declined to say, so the judge entered a lethal injection method for him.

Outside of court, Zuckerman told FOX 13 News he would appeal the judge's decision to sign the death warrant. Family members of Honie and Benn declined to comment to reporters as they left the courthouse.

The last time the state executed a death row inmate, it was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. He died by firing squad.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has also asked a judge to sign a death warrant for Ralph Leroy Menzies, who was sentenced to die for the 1986 kidnapping and murder of Maurine Hunsaker. Menzies is currently undergoing mental competency evaluations after his lawyers raised concerns he may be suffering from dementia.