HIGH NOON: Is It Time For States To Bring Back Execution By Firing Squad?

Eric Owens | Editor

A Republican state lawmaker in Utah wants to bring back the firing squad as an option for the state’s death row criminals.

The legislator, Paul Ray, calls death by firing squad a more compassionate mode of capital punishment, reports the Associated Press.

Ray, who represents the residential city of Clearfield in northern Utah, will propose his firing-squad bill in January when Utah’s next legislative session begins. It will give any convict marked for death the opportunity to die by multiple gunshot wounds.

State legislators in Missouri and Wyoming had an opportunity to bring back firing squads this year. Neither effort panned out. However, after Oklahoma managed to screw up the lethal injection of Clayton Lockett on April 29, problems with the execution of executions are once again a hot news topic. (RELATED: Reporters talk about the botched execution in Oklahoma on Tuesday)

Lockett’s vein collapsed during an attempt at lethal injection. A heart attack killed him over 40 minutes later.

In 1999, Lockett kidnapped, beat and twice shot 19-year-old Stephanie Neiman. He then commanded an accomplice to bury her while she was still breathing.

Utah is no stranger to execution by firing squad. As recently as 2010, five police officers executed Ronnie Lee Gardner using .30-caliber Winchester rifles.

Gardner said he sought death by firing squad because of his Mormon background. He was able to select it because of a a grandfather clause which allows any death-row convict in Utah to choose a firing squad if he (or she) was sentenced to death before the state abolished the practice in 2004.

In 1984, Gardner killed Melvyn John Otterstrom during a robbery. Later, on his way to a 1985 court hearing related to that murder, he fatally shot attorney Michael Burdell during an escape bid.

Rep. Ray contends that death by firing squad is a lot more civilized than death by lethal injection because it’s harder to mess up. He says it’s also far cheaper than obtaining an expensive lethal drug cocktail or buying and maintaining an expensive electric chair.

“It sounds like the Wild West, but it’s probably the most humane way to kill somebody,” Ray told the Associated Press.

“The prisoner dies instantly,” he added. “It sounds draconian. It sounds really bad, but the minute the bullet hits your heart, you’re dead. There’s no suffering.”

Death penalty opponents disagree with Ray.

For one thing, a half dozen or so shooters firing at close range can still miss, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, DC-based outfit that opposes the death penalty.

“The idea is that it would be very quick and accurate but just a little movement by the person could change that,” Dieter told the Associated Press. “Things can go wrong with any method of execution.”

Dieter noted an 1897 firing squad execution involving convicted murdered Wallace Wilkerson. The embarrassingly inept firing squad members missed Wiklerson’s heart, causing him to suffer for 27 minutes before he finally died.

The death penalty opponent said any state reinstating the practice will likely face the “voyeuristic attention” Utah lawmakers cited as the reason for eliminating fire squads in 2004.

Capital punishment was briefly found to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. That decision was reversed in 1976.

Some 35 states allow the practice of death by lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Eight states still offer the option of electrocution, but all of them also utilize lethal injection as well.

Three states provide gas chambers as a death possibility.

Three states offer hanging as an option.

Only Oklahoma currently makes a firing squad an alternative for death-row criminals.

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