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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Hoping to avoid questions from lawmakers, the Utah Sentencing Commission asked for and got a statement from the LDS church stating that the church doesn't oppose eliminating the firing squad as a means for executing death-row inmates.
In a one sentence statement provided Wednesday to the commission, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spokesman Dale Bills said the church "has no objection to the elimination of the firing squad in Utah."
The statement was requested as part of the commission's study of how to get rid of the firing squad method of execution. All members of the commission favor moving to lethal injection as soon as possible to stop the "media circus" that surrounds firing squad executions, said Paul Boyden, a commission member and executive director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors.
The commission plans to formally recommend to the state Legislature elimination of the firing squad and adoption of lethal injection as the only method.
The clarification from the church was needed, according to one commission member, because of a historical church doctrine that held that justice was not done unless a murderer's blood was shed.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says several early church leaders, including Brigham Young, taught that in "a complete theocracy the Lord could require the voluntary shedding of a murderer's blood -- presumably by capital punishment -- as part of the process of atonement for such grievous sin."
But the encyclopedia and past church statements say the teaching, known as "blood atonement," was never a doctrine of the church nor has it been practiced by the church at any time.
Boyden said recent letters to the editor to newspapers indicate some in Mormon-dominated Utah still believe the firing squad is necessary for religious reasons and the commission wasn't sure how widespread that belief could be.
"If we hadn't (asked for the church's position), this probably would have been a question among some legislators and it may have not made it out of committee," Boyden said.
Utah is the only state that uses the firing squad method, although Idaho and Oklahoma retain it as an option if other methods are not viable. Utah also is one of seven states that permit a person convicted of a capital crime to choose how he or she will die.
While the church's statement was requested, Boyden said the commission's discussion Wednesday largely centered on the topic of whether making the switch to lethal injection could cause delays for convicted murderers who had previously chosen the firing squad.
"The question is, do we create a situation where somebody on death row could create a delay by appealing on the grounds that they're entitled to be shot rather than executed by lethal injection?" Boyden said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)