Utah governor says he’ll likely approve firing squad bill
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah is a capital punishment state and needs a backup method to carry out executions if a shortage of lethal injection drugs continues
By Michelle L. Price
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s governor said Thursday he is leaning toward signing a proposal that would make his state the only one to allow firing squad executions if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah is a capital punishment state and needs a backup method to carry out executions if a shortage of lethal injection drugs continues.
However, Herbert said he doesn’t think Utah will need to use the firing squad because there are ways to find the drugs. And state corrections officials “will take whatever steps are necessary” to obtain them, the governor said at his monthly news conference televised on KUED-TV. He didn’t elaborate.
It’s unclear when Herbert will officially sign the bill. He has until April 1 to make the decision.
Utah lawmakers passed the measure last week amid a nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs.
States have struggled to keep up their drug inventories as European manufacturers opposed to capital punishment refuse to sell the components of lethal injections to U.S. prisons.
Utah’s measure, from Republican Rep. Paul Ray, requires the state to use a firing squad if it fails to get the drugs 30 days before an execution.
Ray has argued trained marksmen offer faster and more humane deaths than the drawn-out, painful ones some lethal injections have caused in recent years, including executions in Oklahoma and Arizona in 2014.
Utah is the only state in the past 40 years to carry out a death sentence by firing squad. It stopped allowing death row inmates to choose a firing squad in 2004, citing concerns about the excessive attention it draws to the condemned.
A handful of Utah inmates sentenced before 2004 still have the option of a firing squad execution. But they’re all several years away from exhausting legal appeals to their sentences.
Critics argue Utah should avoid the Old West-style executions, saying the method is barbaric and archaic and will leave victims forgotten.
Herbert said Thursday he hopes critics realize that because the state has capital punishment, a lethal injection is preferable, and opponents should push drug manufacturers to sell the drugs to states.