Utah lawmakers vote for firing squads in absence of lethal injection drugs

Reuters / Trent Nelson-Salt Lake Tribune
Utah lawmakers have passed a bill that would make the state the only one in America to authorize the use of firing squads for the executions of death row inmates if the state can’t obtain lethal injection drugs.

Gov. Gary Herbert has not said whether he will sign in the bill into law, but it did pass the state Senate in an 18-10 vote.

Like many other US states, Utah is having trouble finding lethal injection drugs as part of its preferred method of executing death row inmates. International pharmaceutical companies, which generally manufacture the drugs used in lethal injections, have stopped selling them to state correctional facilities.

READ MORE: Key lethal injection drug running out in Texas, S. Carolina

"If those substances cannot be obtained, this proposal would make sure that those instructed to carry out the lawful order of the court and the carefully deliberated decision of the jury can do so," Herbert, a Republican, said in a statement, according to NBC.

Utah originally used firing squads in executions before the method was repealed in 2004, but there are a handful of inmates on death row that have chosen the method for their execution because they were sentenced before 2004. The last prisoner to be executed by firing squad in the state was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010.

"We have to have an option," Utah Rep. Paul Ray (R) told reporters when he introduced the House version of the bill.

In 2001, the first of three drugs used in the lethal injection cocktail, sodium thiopental, was discontinued by the only FDA-approved manufacturer of the drug, Hospira. The company had intended to move production of the drug from a North Carolina plant to a modern facility in Italy; however, it ran afoul of European Union regulations that would hold the company liable for torture if the drug was sold for anything other than to induce surgical anesthesia.

READ MORE:Oklahoma considering ‘efficient’ gas chambers for executions

A number of states are exploring alternatives to lethal injection because the drugs are becoming harder to obtain. Tennessee brought back the electric chair as an alternative method last year, although inmates have sued to stop it from being used.

In Oklahoma, lawmakers are considering a bill to use a gas chamber with nitrogen gas as an alternative to the electric chair. The state’s lethal injection formula is currently under review by the US Supreme Court to determine whether it violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment, since the state had a number of botched executions. Oklahoma’s third method remains the firing squad.

READ MORE:Pennsylvania gov. declares moratorium on ‘unjust’ death penalty

Pennsylvania’s governor declared a stay on executions for 187 death row inmates in February, pending further analysis of the state’s capital sentencing system, which was acknowledged to be riddled with flaws.