Tags: fired squads | utah | drug shortages | botched executions | senate

Firing Squads May Return Amid Drug Shortages, Botched Executions

By    |   Monday, 16 Mar 2015 02:52 PM

For several years, states have struggled to find a solution to the problem of a shortage of drugs used to execute individuals by lethal injection, but the Utah legislature voted last week on one possible alternative the firing squad.

The Utah state Senate voted 18-10 on Tuesday to approve a bill that would permit the use of the firing squad if lethal injection drugs are not available 30 days prior to the scheduled execution date, KCSG reported.

The measure now moves to the desk of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who has not indicated whether he would support it.

Herbert's office issued a statement saying that the governor does not commit to acting on a bill he has not reviewed, but said he has "no intent to change" the death penalty statute that says lethal injection is the preferred method of execution.

"However, our state, as is the case with states around the country, is finding it increasingly difficult to obtain the substances required to perform a lethal injection. We are dedicated to pursuing all reasonable and legal options to obtain those substances to make sure that, when required, we are in a position to carry out this very serious sentence by lethal injection," said Herbert in his March 10 statement.

Faced with increasing shortages of the lethal injection drug, Utah used the firing squad (it is no longer allowed) in 2010 to execute Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was convicted of killing two men and wounding a courthouse bailiff while attempting to escape custody in 1985, according to Fox2now.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, only three individuals have been executed by firing squad since 1976, Oklahoma offers firing squad only if lethal injection and electrocution are found unconstitutional.

But that could change as more states, like Utah, face the difficulty of identifying alternative means of execution as the supply of lethal injection drugs dwindles.

Last week, the state of Texas executed gang leader Manuel Vasquez by lethal injection, but now the Lone Star State is left with a lone dose of pentobarbital remaining in the prison system’s medicine cabinet and that is set to be used in a planned Wednesday execution, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"If Texas is struggling, it’s really shows just how dire the situation has become for lethal injection nationwide," criminal-law expert and Fordham University professor Deborah Denno told the paper.

While Wyoming currently does not have any prisoners on death row, last month Wyoming's state House voted to reinstate the firing squad, according to The Daily Beast.

Facing shortages, many states turned to compounding companies for their supply, but that option is under criticism after several high-profile cases in which a lethal drug cocktail failed to work and deaths often came after multiple injections.

In Arizona, for example, convicted murderer was injected with 15 separate doses before he finally died, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Some contend that such botched executions may be less humane than the firing squad.

"This may sound gory, but the limited body of research on death penalty methods suggests that the firing squad is actually a pretty good way to go. A Utah inmate who in 1938 agreed to be gunned to death while hooked up to an electrocardiogram showed complete heart death within one minute of the firing squad's shots. By contrast, a typical, complication-free lethal injection takes about nine minutes to kill an inmate," wrote Margot Sanger-Katz in a June 2010 article in Slate.

The problem of shortages stems from European Union embargo that prohibits the export of drugs that could be used in executions in the U.S.

"[Hospira] was the only maker of the drug in the United States. But by 2011, the company stopped manufacturing it. In part, it really wanted to distance itself from executions," said National Public Radio's Katy Lohr in a 2013 report on the scarcity of lethal injection drugs.

The move caused a shortage, "which basically led states to search for the drug wherever they could find it," she added.

Presently, the death penalty is legal in 32 states, and also is permitted by the federal government and the U.S. military, while four states New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012) and Maryland (2013) have abolished its use in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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For several years, states have struggled to find a solution to the problem of a shortage of drugs used to execute individuals by lethal injection, but the Utah legislature voted last week on one possible alternative - the firing squad.
fired squads, utah, drug shortages, botched executions, senate
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2015-52-16
Monday, 16 Mar 2015 02:52 PM
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