Bill Would Ban Firing Squads

Bill Would Ban Firing Squads

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah would ban firing squads and execute condemned prisoners only by lethal injection -- and not on Sundays, Mondays or holidays -- if some state legislators get their way.

Hoping to end what has been called a media circus surrounding firing-squad executions, two Utah lawmakers -- Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, and Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful -- have introduced companion bills in the House and Senate aimed at abolishing the firing squad.

The measures have been expected since August, when the Utah Sentencing Commission said it would support eliminating the firing squads. Commission members said firing-squad executions have become publicity magnets that tend to focus attention on death-row inmates instead of their victims.

"We're making Jesse Jameses out of these people," Sevier County Sheriff Phil Barney, a member of the sentencing commission, said in August. "We're making a hero out of some idiot that's destroyed families."

Ron Allen said victims' families suffer when the execution becomes "a debacle. It's not fair to the families."

Utah's historic firing-squad option has been linked to a religious concept called blood atonement -- spilling blood to pay for grievous sins -- taught by some early Mormon leaders but never practiced by the church, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in September announced it would not object to elimination of the firing squad.

John Albert Taylor was Utah's last condemned killer to die by firing squad in 1996, an event covered by more than 150 television crews from Italy, France, Japan and other countries.

The ban would take effect retroactively, meaning those on death row who have already chosen to die by firing squad couldn't avail themselves of that option. The measures allow the firing squad only if an inmate appeals and a court rules in favor of his preference.

"I don't think it's right that felons convicted of a capital felony should have a choice," Ron Allen said Friday. "Their victims had no choice. In that respect, it's an issue of fairness and justice."

Officials have said that three death-row inmates -- Troy Michael Kell, Ronald Lafferty and Ralph Menzies -- have chosen to die by firing squad. Another who sought the firing squad, Roberto Arguelles, died of a medical condition in prison in November.

The Utah Department of Corrections has taken no position on the firing squad bill, said spokesman Jack Ford. But the department requested a third bill, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, which would prohibit executions on Sundays, Mondays or holidays.

That would allow the department to avoid paying overtime for officers preparing for the execution, Ford said.

Preparation for a Monday execution would take most of Sunday, he said. In the days immediately preceding an execution, the Corrections department must make special arrangements for members of the victims' and inmate's families and rehearse the execution itself.

Of the last three executions set in Utah, only one has fallen on one of those three days -- the planned firing squad execution of Menzies, initially set for Monday, Nov. 10, but stayed by a federal court in September.

The others, also by firing squad, were set for Arguelles on Friday, June 27, and for Kell on Saturday, June 28. Both executions later were stayed -- Arguelles' because of questions regarding his competency and Kell's following the filing of a post-conviction appeal.

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

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