Saturday, October 04, 2003


The deets...

Panel Suggests Barring Firing Squads

SALT LAKE CITY - A proposed law doing away with firing squad executions in Utah should apply retroactively and bar them even for the four inmates who say they want to die that way, the Utah Sentencing Commission said.

Utah is the only state that uses firing squads, and lawmakers are considering a bill to make injection the sole execution method.

Commission members said Wednesday that ending the firing squad executions would stop the "media circus" that inevitably surrounds those punishments. The recommendation passed by 11-6.

Critics of the measure said enduring four more firing squad executions would be preferable to dragging out the appeals in those cases.

"Delay is the name of the game in death-penalty cases. Anything that can be litigated will be litigated in these kinds of cases," Assistant Utah Attorney General Frederic Voros told the commission.

Making the proposed law retroactive, Board of Pardons and Parole Chairman Michael Sibbett said, would be "one more wrinkle for a creative defense attorney to work with."

The inmates who want to die by firing squad are Roberto Arguelles, Troy Michael Kell, Ronald Lafferty and Ralph Menzies. In all, there are 11 people on death row in Utah.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, two people in the United States have died by firing squad, both in Utah: Gary Gilmore in 1977 and John Albert Taylor 19 years later.

Utah's use of firing squads predates statehood in 1896 and is believed to be a remnant of the early Mormon belief that "blood atonement" is a required punishment for taking a life. In response to the sentencing commission's request for clarification, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said last month that it had no objection to elimination of the firing squad.

The firing squads employ five riflemen, one of whom shoots a blank so no one will know who fired the fatal shot.

While Utah is the only state that uses the firing squad method, Idaho and Oklahoma retain it as an option if other methods are not viable.