Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, presented a draft bill to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday that would allow the state to fall back on the use of a firing squad for executions if the state could not readily obtain the traditional chemical used for lethal injections. He pointed out how other states have made the news recently for using their own “chemical cocktails” for lethal injections that have prolonged the deaths of inmates, leading to accusations the states “botched” the executions.
“I don't know if you could call it 'botched' because they did die,” Ray told the committee, referencing the September execution
in Oklahoma of a convicted murderer and rapist who died more than 40 minutes after receiving a lethal injection.
“I wish we could find a way to make it longer not shorter to be honest with you,” Ray said.
But Ray stressed his bill would actually increase the chance of a humane execution by allowing the state to use the firing squad if there wasn't any lethal injection chemicals available to the state.
Ray pointed out that death by firing squad is instantaneous and there hasn't been an incident surrounding the use of a firing squad in Utah since 1896, when a man flinched before being shot. He survived for five minutes before bleeding to death.
Since then the system has been safeguarded thanks to inmates being immobilized, and with a clear target placed on the inmates.
“A lot of these guys are dead before they hear a gun,” Ray said.
The thrust of Ray's bill was to change the current statute, which since 2003 has designated lethal injection as the primary method of execution, leaving firing squads as a backup. Ray says his bill would afford the state leeway to have the firing squad be the primary method of execution in the possibility that proven chemicals could not be obtained.
He told the committee that the chemicals used for lethal injections have long been obtained from a European company, but that the company has stopped selling the chemicals out of disapproval of the death penalty.
Ray says that using untested chemicals for executions would give defense attorneys another avenue to challenge an execution and prolong capital punishment proceedings at significant expense to taxpayers.
“They'll argue anything to keep their client from dying,” Ray said.
While there are plenty of options for states to create their own injection “cocktails,” Ray simply argued it wasn't worth having them be used as a means of blocking an execution.
As a disturbing side note Ray told the committee that he had received a “voluminous” amount of emails from individuals about all the ways the state could kill an individual. But reiterated that his argument was to make sure the state would have more wiggle room to use the firing squad.
Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City was the only member of the public to speak in opposition to the bill.
“We are opposed to the bill because we are opposed to the death penalty in general,” Hill said. “I do want to make it very clear that we don't believe there is a humane way to execute anyone.”
After Hill spoke, committee chair Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, was surprised that no other members of the public wanted to comment on the bill, setting Ray up for a cringe-worthy comment about the public interest in the bill.
“Kind of dead, huh?” Ray said.
The committee approved the bill, setting it up for further debate during the 2015 legislative session.
To contact Rep. Ray about this bill click here. To find your legislator to discuss this or other bills click here. For more updates from the coming session visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.