Utah firing squad bill may get governor's signature

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says he's leaning toward signing firing squad legislation

Utah's governor announced Thursday that he was "leaning toward" signing a bill that would allow the use of a firing squad to execute death row inmates if lethal-injection drugs are unavailable.

Republican Gov. Gary R. Herbert said that because Utah is a capital punishment state, a "fallback" method is necessary to ensure court orders are followed.

"It doesn't happen often where we have executions in Utah. We've had seven over the last 40 years," he said during his regular monthly news conference. "I hope we don't have any ... but that is the law of Utah … we have to have the ability to carry that out.”

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Paul Ray, passed in the state Senate on March 10.

Ray, who introduced the legislation in December, said he began drafting it last March. That was before a host of executions by lethal injection in Oklahoma, Arizona and Ohio in which inmates appeared to writhe in pain and gasp for air.

Utah uses a three-drug cocktail to perform lethal injections, Ray said, but the state no longer has access to pentobarbital, a necessary barbiturate for the procedure.

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

Utah and Oklahoma are the only states in the country where execution by firing squad is technically still legal. Death row inmates condemned in Utah before 2004 had the option to choose to die by firing squad.

The deadline for Herbert to sign the legislation is April 1.

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