Utahns band together to oppose death penalty

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new statewide coalition, made up of both secular and religious leaders, is jumping into the death penalty debate. They say executions in Utah should be stopped altogether.

Members of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty say the death penalty doesn't help the victims of families and diverts vital resources from other crime prevention efforts. Others, like the Attorney General, don't see it that way.

Utah was the first state to resume executions after capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S. in 1976, when Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad on January 17, 1977.

On Friday, as Ronnie Lee Gardner chose his method of execution upstairs, downstairs at the Matheson Courthouse, the group gathered to argue against execution.

"Principally, as people of faith, we believe that God is the giver of life, human and divine, and that for the state to take a life is to assume the prerogative of God; and we don't believe that's morally permissible," said The Most Reverend John C. Weseter, bishop of the Utah Catholic Diocese.

"It's not about the person who has committed the crime. It's about us," said Ralph Dellapiana, death penalty project director for the High Road for Human Rights organization.

Groups and individuals, both religious and secular, have banded together to form Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, raising a host of concerns. They say the death penalty is too expensive, doesn't deter crime and sometimes kills people who are innocent.


Ruby Price's father was murdered in 1943.

"When Jesus Christ was on the cross, he said, ‘Father, forgive them.' He didn't say kill them," Price said.

Others, like Dellapiana, have cost as their main concern.

"It's an extreme waste that could be better used for other law enforcement purposes, like more officers on the street," Dellapiana said.

Utah's attorney general thinks justice, and the interests of society in general, requires death for Gardner, not life in prison.

"It doesn't apply to a man who, while having escaped and actually gotten away, murders another man. That's the person you're dealing with here. That's the kind of person where you say life without parole is not appropriate," Shurtleff said.

But death penalty opponents say the system is seriously flawed and needs reform.

"Violence begets violence," said The Reverend Dr. David A. Henry, a Presbyterian minister.

The group is calling for a moratorium on executions while an appointed commission studies the impact of the death penalty on Utah.


Story compiled with contributions from John Daley and Andrew Adams.

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