A House committee on Tuesday moved Utah one step closer to abolishing the death penalty, despite the pleas from the families of victims whose killers sit on the state's death row.
SB189 passed on a 6-5 vote and will move to the full House for consideration with just two days left in the 2016 legislative session.
B189 would eliminate the death penalty as a punishment for first-degree felony murder, effective May 10, and leave life in prison without the possibility of parole, or 25 years to life as the remaining punishments. The bill would not affect the prosecution of any capital case already underway, nor stop Utah from carrying out the executions of the nine men currently on the state's death row.
Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, told the committee he sees three main reasons that Utah should no longer use the death penalty: The costs of appeals; the decades between conviction and execution, which causes suffering for the family of victims and the imperfection of governments, which have sometimes executed innocent persons.
"Theoretically, the death penalty, it probably makes some sense," said Urquhart, who previously favored capital punishment. "But in reality, in Utah, the death penalty makes absolutely no sense."
On average, it takes nearly 25 years for those on Utah's death row to be executed following conviction and a 2012 study found that costs the state roughly $1.6 million per inmate, which far exceeds the amount spent on inmates sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, he said.
National statistics suggest that roughly 4 percent of all death row inmates were wrongly convicted.
Urquhart said he understood that the families of victims are divided on their support of capital punishment.
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Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Jennifer Dobner, March 8, 2016