USA | The Dreadful Failure of Lethal Injection

Editor’s Note: This column is the product of a research collaboration with five Amherst College students, Mattea Denny, Nicolas Graber-Mitchell, Greene Ko, Rose Mroczka, and Lauren Pelosi. America’s death penalty continues to fall out of favor, a well-known fact. When the year started, eight executions were scheduled for February and March in five different states. But all of them are now on hold, and two of the three executions that were set for April already have been halted. While advocacy for the end of the death penalty has played some role, it is the decomposition of the lethal injection paradigm that has truly driven down execution numbers. We have now seen a decade of chaos and experimentation as death penalty jurisdictions tried to find reliable sources of drugs to carry out executions. States rolled out new drugs, but things did not go smoothly. The number of mishaps associated with lethal injection increased substantially. From 2010-2020, an already problematic method of ex

Utah: House barely passes firing squad bill

Tensions ran high Friday when the vote to reinstate Utah's firing squad stalled at 35-35 in the Utah House of Representatives.

After a dramatic pause while remaining representatives were called to the House to cast their votes, HB11 eventually passed by just 5 votes, 39-34, with 1 lawmaker changing their vote. It now advances to the Senate for further consideration.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, would legalize firing squad executions in Utah if drugs needed for lethal injections aren't available 30 days before the date of the death warrant or if lethal injection executions become unconstitutional.

"It is never easy to talk about taking another life," Ray said, "but in our judicial system, we have a means that requires that sometimes."

Utah may need a "backup" method to lethal injections, he said, in the wake of recent botched executions that have led to a U.S. Supreme Court case with Oklahoma that may cause lethal injection executions to become unconstitutional.

Utah potentially faces the risk of a situation similar to Oklahoma's case if the state continues to carry out lethal injections, as drugs previously used for lethal injections have become unavailable because European pharmaceutical companies that sell the drugs oppose the death penalty and refuse to sell to U.S. prisons, Ray said.

"What we're doing here is trying to avoid a costly legal battle in carrying out what the courts have asked us to carry out," he said.

On the House floor, Ray asked his fellow representatives to remember the debate of Utah's death penalty was not "germane" to his bill, as HB11 only concerns the method to carry out what has already been established as part of the state's justice system.

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, said she refuses to vote in favor of a bill that gives a tool to carry out the death penalty. The freshman lawmaker, who is black, said capital punishment is sentenced by a process that is "fraught with errors" and negatively affects the community she represents.

"The death penalty disproportionately affects people of color and people of lower socioeconomic status," Hollins said. "Instead of ensuring Utah has multiple ways of killing people, we should be ensuring that all Utahns are equal before the law."

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, also opposed the bill, saying firing squad executions are "barbaric" and will damage Utah's image.

King said continuing Utah's capital punishment would be a "fiscally irresponsible decision" because "it costs nearly twice as much to prosecute a death penalty case than a life-in-prison case."

"Utah has a real chance to be a moral and fiscal leader on this issue," he said. "We know how expensive the death penalty is. We know the death penalty does not deter criminal activity. There is no right or humane way to kill people. We should be looking for ways to make Utah better, not worse."

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he doesn't understand the debate over methods of execution. He said Friday's close vote on the firing squad bill was more suited to a debate over capital punishment.

"It escapes me that we're having such a prolonged debate on the niceties of, or what doesn't offend our senses about, capital punishment," Hughes said.

He said he doesn't see the controversy over using a firing squad to carry out executions. What Hughes paid closest attention to in the debate, he said, was the contention that firing squads cause the least amount of pain.

"When you talk about the way you're doing it, if it's offensive to people to think about, well, think about what you're doing," the speaker said. "I just don't get it."

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, will be proceeding as the bill's Senate floor sponsor. Ray said while he's already found support of HB11 from some senators, it's unclear how his bill will fair in the Senate.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said it's too early to predict whether the firing squad bill will pass the Senate. He said he hasn't thought too much about the bill because he's been busy with other key issues this session, including Medicaid expansion and a gas tax increase.

"Now we'll get serious about the bill and have some caucus meetings about it and see what the will of the Senate is," Niederhauser said.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the issue needs to be dealt with because of legal challenges to lethal injections in other states.

"I think it's a very important issue," Hillyard said. "Until we clear up the issue about whether injunction would work, I think there is a cloud over the death penalty issue. And you resolve it by having the firing squad as an alternative."

Senate Minority Caucus Manager Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said he opposes the death penalty and doesn't like the bill. But, he suggested, if it's going to be considered, it should be amended to require executions be broadcast over the Internet for all to see.

"If we do it, let's stream it live," Dabakis said. "If the purpose of it is for deterrence and we're willing to live with the death penalty, maybe we ought to get it out there. It seems a bit barbaric these days, but we're going to have to deal with it."

Source: Deseret News, Feb. 14, 2015

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