Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Eliminating Firing Squad

Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Eliminating Firing Squad

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill that would eliminate the firing squad, leaving lethal injection as the state's sole method of execution.

Senators advanced House Bill 180 on a 17-9 vote Wednesday, with some indicating they could vote differently on the final vote.

Attempts years ago to eliminate the firing squad ran afoul of legislators who felt that murderers should have the chance to atone for their crimes through the physical shedding of their blood. Blood atonement was a belief held by many Mormons, but was not a recognized doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church had no objection to this year's bill to get rid of the firing squad.

Legislators arguing against the bill this year do so not out of concern for the inmates' souls but from a feeling that lethal injection is too gentle.

Eliminating the firing squad "leaves us with (only) lethal injection -- the most painless way to die," said Sen. Dave Thomas, R-South Weber.

"We're making it too easy on the convicted killers," said Thomas, who termed himself a former "death penalty litigator."

Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, said the bill is primarily aimed at ending the "media circus" that occurs when the firing squad is activated.

He said that when John Albert Taylor was executed in 1996, news crews from as far as Japan and Italy converged on Utah, with much of the focus on the method of death rather than Taylor's rape and murder of 11-year-old Charla King.

"If the victim didn't have a choice, why are we giving the perpetrator a choice?" said Allen. "Let's take the option away and create an environment that is more respectful to the victims' families."

Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Sandy, said the continued use of the firing squad has made Utah "a stage for protestations against the death penalty" and turned condemned killers into sympathetic figures for some.

"They are not folk heroes. They are murderers," Walker said.

Thomas said worldwide attention on Utah executions is not a bad thing.

"When we talk about this media circus -- that's exactly what we want," he said. He said the firing squad sends a clear message that "you don't come to the state of Utah to commit these crimes."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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