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Commission Recommends Ban on Fring Squad

Commission Recommends Ban on Fring Squad

Posted - Aug. 6, 2003 at 10:13 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Sentencing Commission on Wednesday recommended outlawing firing squads and allowing only lethal injections when executing condemned criminals.

The commission also would like to see the ban imposed retroactively, said Ron Gordon, commission executive director.

"The feeling was, 'Let's not have another firing squad execution in Utah,"' Gordon said during a break from the commission meeting.

The next step will be for lawmakers to craft legislation, which could be done in interim committee or during the 2004 General Session.

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, in 1996 sponsored a bill banning the shootings that did not make it out of committee. She says she's willing to sponsor another bill this year.

Besides carrying a stigma, Allen said the practice is an inhumane and unnecessary spectacle.

Utah is the only state that allows inmates to select death by firing squad and the only state that has used the method since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Currently there are four death-row inmates in state prison who have chosen to be shot to death.

The state was preparing for the possibility of back-to-back firing squad executions in June. But 34-year-old Troy Michael Kell's execution, scheduled for June 28, was stayed in May pending his appeal. Serial killer Roberto Arguelles, 41, was scheduled to be executed June 27. The order was stayed until his competency can be determined.

Gordon said the commission believes it would be constitutional to apply a law retroactively. Otherwise, firing squad executions could still be happening 10 years from now, considering all appeals and other legal actions possible on behalf of the inmates who have already chosen firing squad executions.

Gordon said that retaining the option would continue to allow condemned inmates the last, angry word and bring unwanted global attention to Utah.

Gov. Mike Leavitt has said he would support legislation to ban firing squads.

During such executions, unidentified law enforcement officials chosen for the task -- those who seek to be on the squad are rejected -- would enter a room where five 30-caliber rifles are set up and loaded, one with a blank shell. That way, says Department of Corrections spokesman Jack Ford, no one knows who fires the fatal shot.

A paramedic would pin a white target over the condemned person's heart. The person would be hooded; witnesses would watch from four rooms.

The firing squads would shoot simultaneously at the inmate from gun portals in a separate room. The inmate would be in a chair about 30 feet away. The squads would rehearse beforehand.

The firing squad execution room also is used for lethal injections.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, Utah has executed two men by firing squad: Gary Gilmore in 1977 and John Albert Taylor in 1996.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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