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Utah State Senate Bill Reinstates Death By Firing Squad

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A bill bringing back the use of a firing squad to carry out death penalties has been approved by Utah's Senate. It now only needs Gov. Gary Herbert to sign off on it to be fully implemented.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, the bill was passed with an 18-10 vote. The legislation was introduced in December last year, but the Republican representative said he started drafting the bill as early as March, long before executions by lethal injection started going awry.

While the bill does allow executions by firing squad, the method will only be used if the state doesn't have access to the drugs it needs for a lethal injection. Utah uses a combination of three drugs to produce its lethal injection cocktail but it doesn't have access anymore to pentobarbital, a barbiturate necessary to the mix.

Utah chose lethal injection as its preferred execution method in 2004, but those on death row condemned before the ruling was carried out can opt to die via firing squad.

"Any form of death is obviously a serious subject, so the two reasons I chose it were, obviously, number one, that's what we've done in the past, and secondly, out of all the other options, it is the most humane," explained Ray.

Utah has not seen an execution since 2010 when Ronnie Lee Gardner's sentence was carried out by a firing squad. It also won't be until 2017 when the next death row inmate is executed, so the state has at least two years to prepare before actually using a firing squad.

There is no word yet on when and if Herbert will sign the bill, but the governor has acknowledged that Utah officials are having a difficult time acquiring pentobarbital.

The only other place where it is legal to execute a death row inmate by firing squad is Oklahoma. Even so, the method may only be used if the court finds death by lethal injection unconstitutional.

Lethal injection has been under scrutiny as its use has led to botched executions that had death row inmates taking longer than usual to die. In Oklahoma, for instance, the April 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett took 43 minutes. His lethal injection cocktail used midazolam, a sedative. The ingredient is believed to be what prolonged agony for Lockett, leading Ohio to take heed and discontinue the use of midazolam, suspending executions in the state.

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Photo: Tommy Woodard | Flickr

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