On Monday, Republican Governor Gary Herbert made Utah the only state to allow exception by firing squad, when he signed a bill that made it legal, if lethal injection is not available.
The bill states that it “modifies the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure regarding the execution of the death penalty,” by providing that if “substances are not available to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection on the date specified by warrant,” the death penalty “shall be carried out by firing squad.”
Reuters reported that this decision comes during a shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections, after several pharmaceutical companies, primarily in Europe, “imposed sales bans about four years ago because they objected to having medications made for other purposes being used in executions.”
State Representative Paul Ray (R), a sponsor of the bill, told the Associated Press that when being executed by firing squad, a prisoner is seated in a chair with a target pinned over his/her heart. He said that the inmate is then shot by five anonymous shooters (chosen from a pool of volunteers, with priority given to the ones from the area in which the crime happened), firing .30-caliber Winchester rifles through slots in a wall that is 25 feet away.
Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Herbert, released a statement saying that while lethal injection is the preferred method, the state of Utah feels obligated to execute individuals by the date listed on their death warrant.
“We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” Carpenter said. “However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch.”
Carpenter also claimed that those who voiced opposition to the bill were “primarily arguing against capital punishment in general.”
State Representative Stephen Handy (R), who is in opposition to the bill, told Reuters that the thought of a firing squad “sends a horrible message from the state of Utah.”
The Washington Post reported that Utah, which currently has no lethal injection drugs, has eight inmates on its death row, and three have selected death by firing squad as their method of execution.