Capital punishment in Utah
Utah was the first state to resume executions after the 1967-1976 national moratorium on capital punishment, when Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in 1977. Utah is one of only two states to have ever carried out executions by firing squad, and the only one to do so after the moratorium ended.
The spring 1850 garroting of Patsowits, a Ute, was the first recorded execution in the provisional State of Deseret. Utah Territory was established in September 1850, and it permitted condemned prisoners to choose between hanging and firing squad. In 1851, beheading was introduced as a third execution option. No prisoner chose this method and the option was eliminated in 1888. In 1955, Utah state lawmakers voted to introduce the electric chair; however, the state never used electrocution due to failure to provide appropriation. Forty-four executions occurred in the State of Utah and Utah Territory before the national moratorium in 1967; six were by hanging and 38 were by firing squad. In 1958, twenty-one-year-old Barton Kay Kirkham became the last prisoner to be hanged by the state of Utah. The last pre-moratorium execution in Utah took place on March 30, 1960.
In 1967, when the moratorium went into effect, Utah was the only remaining state to allow death row inmates to choose between firing squad and hanging. Utah attempted to reintroduce death penalty statutes during the moratorium but they were struck down by the 1972 United States Supreme Court decision in the case Furman v. Georgia. The state formally reinstated capital punishment on January 7, 1973, and the new death penalty statutes were approved by the United States Supreme Court with the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. The reinstatement allowed Utah to move forward with the death sentences of Dale Selby Pierre and William Andrews for crimes committed in 1974 prior to the reinstatement of capital punishment. They were later executed in 1987 and 1992, respectively. On January 17, 1977, Utah became the first state to execute a prisoner after the moratorium ended: Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad, having selected that method over hanging. Lethal injection was introduced in 1980 and in February of that year, the Utah State Legislature replaced the option of hanging with the option of lethal injection.
The first bill proposing to eliminate the firing squad option was introduced in the Utah House of Representatives in January 1996. In 2004, the legislature passed HB180, which removed the right of the condemned to choose the method of execution and left lethal injection as the only remaining option in the state. The abolition of the firing squad was not retroactive; three inmates on death row at Utah State Prison who chose this method of execution before the end of February 2004 were to be executed by firing squad under a grandfather clause. Utah's most recent execution, that of 49-year-old Ronnie Lee Gardner on June 18, 2010, was the state's third execution by firing squad since the capital punishment moratorium was lifted, and the country's first sanctioned shooting in 14 years.
Legislation signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2015 restores the firing squad as a legal method of execution, requiring its use if the state is unable to obtain the necessary lethal injection drugs within 30 days of a scheduled execution.
Utah is the only state besides Nevada to have ever used the firing squad. Oklahoma is the only other state currently allowing firing squads, and solely in the event that lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia and electrocution are all declared unconstitutional.
Following the abolition of the firing squad, lethal injection became the state's only means of execution until 2015, and currently the primary method, with the firing squad being added as a backup method because of pharmaceutical companies' moves to limit the use of their drugs in executions.
Executions in Utah are currently performed at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Because the ethics standards of the American Medical Association forbid physician involvement in executions, other healthcare professionals including paramedics and nurses perform executions in Utah. Paramedics and nurses, however, are also forbidden from participation in executions by their own professional organizations' ethics codes. The prison protects the anonymity of professionals involved in executions, making it impossible for professional organizations to impose sanctions.
When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the sentence is decided by the jury and must be unanimous.
The power of clemency with respect to death sentences belongs to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, which consists of five members appointed by the governor with consent of the state senate. The governor can only grant a stay of execution not extending beyond the next session of the board.
Under Utah law, aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of death. It is defined as follows:
- The murder was committed by a person who is confined in a jail or other correctional institution;
- The murder was committed incident to one act, scheme, course of conduct, or criminal episode during which two or more persons were killed, or during which the murderer attempted to kill one or more persons in addition to the victim who was killed;
- The murderer knowingly created a great risk of death to a person other than the victim and the murderer;
- The murder was committed incident to an act, scheme, course of conduct, or criminal episode during which the murderer committed or attempted to commit aggravated robbery, robbery, rape, rape of a child, object rape, object rape of a child, forcible sodomy, sodomy upon a child, forcible sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a child, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, child abuse, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated burglary, burglary, aggravated kidnapping, or kidnapping, or child kidnapping;
- The murder was committed incident to one act, scheme, course of conduct, or criminal episode during which the murderer committed the crime of abuse or desecration of a dead human body;
- The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing an arrest of the defendant or another by a peace officer acting under color of legal authority or for the purpose of effecting the defendant's or another's escape from lawful custody;
- The murder was committed for pecuniary gain;
- The murderer committed, or engaged or employed another person to commit the homicide pursuant to an agreement or contract for remuneration or the promise of remuneration for commission of the homicide;
- The murderer previously committed or was convicted of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, murder, attempted murder, or an offense committed in another jurisdiction which if committed in this state would be one of these;
- The murderer was previously convicted of a specified felony such as child rape;
- The murder was committed for the purpose of:
- preventing a witness from testifying;
- retaliating against a person for testifying, providing evidence, or participating in any legal proceedings or official investigation; or
- disrupting or hindering any lawful governmental function or enforcement of laws;
- The victim is or has been a local, state, or federal public official, or a candidate for public office, and the homicide is based on, is caused by, or is related to that official position, act, capacity, or candidacy;
- The victim is or has been a peace officer, law enforcement officer, executive officer, prosecuting officer, jailer, prison official, firefighter, judge or other court official, juror, probation officer, or parole officer, and the victim is either on duty or the homicide is based on, is caused by, or is related to that official position, and the murderer knew, or reasonably should have known, that the victim holds or has held that official position;
- The homicide was committed:
- by means of a destructive device, bomb, explosive, incendiary device, or similar device which was planted, hidden, or concealed in any place, area, dwelling, building, or structure, or was mailed or delivered;
- by means of any weapon of mass destruction; or
- to target a law enforcement officer;
- The murder was committed during the act of unlawfully assuming control of any aircraft, train, or other public conveyance by use of threats or force with intent to obtain any valuable consideration for the release of the public conveyance or any passenger, crew member, or any other person aboard, or to direct the route or movement of the public conveyance or otherwise exert control over the public conveyance;
- The murder was committed by means of the administration of a poison or of any lethal substance or of any substance administered in a lethal amount, dosage, or quantity;
- The victim was a person held or otherwise detained as a shield, hostage, or for ransom;
- The murder was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or exceptionally depraved manner, any of which must be demonstrated by physical torture, serious physical abuse, or serious bodily injury of the victim before death;
- The murderer dismembers, mutilates, or disfigures the victim's body, whether before or after death, in a manner demonstrating the murderer's depravity of mind; or
- The victim, at the time of the death was younger than 14 years of age and was not an unborn child.
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- Herbert signs firing squad alternate for executions into law
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- Utah Code § 76-5-202