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Anti-capital punishment group protests firing squad bill

(Chelsey Allder/Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner, the last person to be executed by firing squad in Utah, stood on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday and recalled how the 2010 execution affected his family.

Randy Gardner called firing squad executions “sick.”

Because Ronnie Lee Gardner was convicted of killing two men and sentenced to death before a 2004 Utah law was passed that eliminated death by firing squad, he was allowed to choose his form of execution.

Randy Gardner, of Salt Lake City, said while he didn’t believe his brother deserved to re-enter society, sentencing him to life in prison without parole would have been a better answer than execution.

“It’s just so basic and simple to me: Thou shall not kill,” he said.

Randy Gardner was among about 20 members of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty who gathered outside the Capitol to protest a bill that would bring back the firing squad as an execution option for Utah.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, is sponsoring HB11, which would allow for firing squad executions as a “backup” to lethal injections. Under the bill, the state could convene a firing squad when drugs needed for lethal injections aren’t available.

European pharmaceutical companies that sell the drugs oppose the death penalty and refuse to sell to U.S. prisons, Ray said.

“Since we’ve already done firing squads, and that’s what we’ve done for years, it just makes sense that that’s our backup plan to keep the firing squad if we can’t get the drug cocktail,” he said. “We can either revert to the firing squad and get it taken care of, or we can spend millions of dollars trying to mitigate lethal injection.”

Since we've already done firing squads, and that's what we've done for years, it just makes sense that that's our backup plan to keep the firing squad if we can't get the drug cocktail.

–Rep. Paul Ray, HB11 sponsor

Ralph Dellapiana, director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said re-establishing firing squad executions would be a step backward for the state.

“The firing squad provision was repealed 10 years ago for good reasons,” Dellapiana said. “It turns executions into Wild West sideshows. It creates national and international condemnation for Utah for resorting to such an archaic and barbaric practice. It makes convicted murderers famous while their victims are all but forgotten, so we’re hoping the Legislature will just say ‘no’ to the firing squad like they did 10 years ago and for the same reasons.”

However, Ray said the controversy of whether capital punishment is appropriate is not the focus of his bill. Instead, it addresses how the state will deliver the death penalty.

“The argument of whether we should be killing people or not isn’t even in this discussion,” he said.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said while he doesn’t claim a position on the bill, the proposal to reinstate firing squad executions was inspired by “terrible stories” of lethal injections that have gone awry and the consideration that other execution methods could be more humane.

“There are some concerns that there could be a quicker … more efficient way, and a way that if you’re going to have a law that allows for the death penalty, that you do it so that person isn’t suffering unnecessarily,” Hughes said.

The firing squad provision was repealed 10 years ago for good reasons. It turns executions into Wild West sideshows.

–Ralph Dellapiana, Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Because capital punishment is violent by nature, efficiency will be a main concern in the consideration of the bill, the speaker said.

“The lethal injection troubles are just one more example of how there is no humane way to kill someone, and it’s sort of tragic in this day and age that we’re debating different methods of killing people instead of calling into question of whether we should be killing people at all,” Dellapiana said.

While the bill to bring back the firing squad centers on controversy of the death penalty, the topic of Utah’s capital punishment likely won’t be resolved during the 2015 legislative session, Hughes said.

Dellapiana said Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty “won’t rest until the death penalty is repealed,” but their focus Tuesday was to object to the possibility of Utah backtracking into the “dark ages of a more barbaric time.”

Ray said while protesters say firing squad executions create a Wild West atmosphere, other forms of execution — whether it be by hanging, gassing, electrocution, or lethal injection — do the same.

“You’re going to have a circus atmosphere regardless of what type you use,” he said.

Katie McKellar is a Dixie State University graduate with a bachelor of science in mass communication. She is currently interning with the Deseret News. Contact Katie at .


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