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Utah Governor Signs Bill to Allow Firing Squad Executions

Inmates on Utah's death row can now be executed by a firing squad, under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday.

By James Queally

Inmates on Utah's death row can now be executed by a firing squad, under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday.

The measure, which cleared the state Senate by an 18-10 vote this month, allows Utah to put inmates to death by firing squad if the state cannot obtain the drugs needed to conduct a lethal injection.

Utah uses a three-drug cocktail to perform lethal injections. State Rep. Paul Ray, the Republican legislator who wrote the bill, has said the state no longer has access to pentobarbital, a barbiturate needed for the cocktail.

"Those who voiced opposition to this bill are primarily arguing against capital punishment in general, and that decision has already been made in our state," Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Herbert, said in a statement.

"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."

Utah and Oklahoma are the only states in the country where execution by firing squad is legal.

Utah adopted lethal injection as its preferred method of execution in 2004, but death row inmates condemned before that can choose to be put to death by firing squad. In Oklahoma, death by firing squad remains legal only as a fail-safe, to be used in the event that death by lethal injection were ever ruled unconstitutional.

Since 1976, there have been only three executions by firing squad in the U.S., according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

Even with Herbert's signature, it will be at least two years before the new law could be put into practice. Utah is not scheduled to execute another prisoner until at least 2017, according to Ray.

States throughout the U.S. have struggled to obtain pentobarbital and phenobarbital in recent years, as the foreign pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the substances have publicly opposed the drugs' use in executions.

Some states have begun employing new drug cocktails to carry out lethal injections, but their use has led to executions in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio in which inmates appeared to writhe in pain and gasp for air.

Times staff writer Lauren Raab contributed to this report.

(c)2015 the Los Angeles Times

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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