SALT LAKE CITY — Utah would restore the practice of killing condemned inmates by firing squad under a bill advancing in the state Legislature, amid growing nationwide concerns about botched executions using the more common method of lethal injection.
The measure to allow the state to use a firing squad if lethal injection is unavailable passed an interim committee of the legislature on Wednesday, a day after a Pennsylvania man was granted a stay of execution so he could participate in lawsuits over that state’s use of lethal injection drugs.
“It’s more humane than the electric chair, hanging or lethal injection,” state Representative Paul Ray, a Republican, said of death by firing squad. “You don’t see the struggling or anything.”
Utah famously used firing squads for executions for decades, allowing prisoners to choose among various legal methods for ending their lives.
One of the best known was Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who in January 1997 became the first person to be executed in the United States in 10 years, after insisting his death sentence be carried out. This came after the U.S. Supreme Court the previous year upheld various death penalty statutes, ending a hiatus stemming from a constitutional ban against “cruel and unusual punishment.”
In 2004, the state decided to stop offering the choice of death by firing squad in favor of lethal injection, which was believed at the time to be more humane.
Prisoners who had already chosen death by firing squad, such as Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was executed in 2010 for a 1985 murder, were allowed to undergo it. But it was not offered as an option in more recent convictions.
Under Ray’s bill, which next will be heard during the part-time legislature’s general session next year, death by firing squad would be allowed as a fallback for the state in the event that lethal injection is not available.
The drugs used during lethal injection executions in the United States are under scrutiny after inmates in troubled executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona took longer than is typical to die and showed signs of distress.
The measure passed the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on a vote of 9-2.