Utah House Votes to Abolish Firing Squad

Utah House Votes to Abolish Firing Squad

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah House of Representatives voted Monday to replace the firing squad with lethal injection for condemned killers.

House representatives, however, refused to do away with the firing squad altogether, voting to keep it on the books in case lethal injection is ever ruled unconstitutional.

The measure, which passed 57-15, takes away a killer's choice to die by firing squad, the preference of three of 10 men on Utah's death row. It would take effect retroactively, denying the three that choice.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

"I believe it's time to eliminate the firing squad. It's long overdue," said Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, who objected to "the media blitz that covers Utah when we have a firing squad. The attention is on the method, not the victim or the victim's family."

One legislator argued that, unwanted publicity or not, Utah should keep the firing squad instead of trying to "sanitize" capital punishment.

"I think it's something we should make no bones about," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper.

Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake City, stood to argue against any form of capital punishment, saying history ultimately will see it as an abomination equal to slavery.

The firing squad, a relic of Utah's territorial days, drew on a purported early Mormon belief that held that justice was not done unless a murderer's blood was shed. But when the Utah Sentencing Commission asked The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last year for its position, the church returned a terse statement saying it had "no objection" to abolishing the firing squad.

Utah's last firing squad execution was of John Albert Taylor in 1996, when more than 150 television crews from around the world descended on Utah.

Preparations for back-to-back firing squads last June also drew widespread media interest, but both executions were delayed. One of the men, Roberto Arguelles, was found dead in November of poisoning from an intestinal perforation.

Utah legislators will consider a separate measure banning executions on Sundays, Mondays or holidays to save the state from paying overtime for officers preparing for executions.

Idaho and Oklahoma retain the firing squad on their books as an option if other methods are not viable, but haven't used it in modern history.

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

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