In close vote, Utah House OKs firing-squad proposal

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In close vote, Utah House OKs firing-squad proposal
FILE - This June 18, 2010, file photo shows the firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah. Ten years after banning the use of firing squads in state executions, Utah lawmakers on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, endorsed a proposal to resurrect the practice in order to head off problems with the lethal injection drugs. (AP Photo/Trent Nelson, Pool, File)
Lawmakers have given a preliminary nod to bringing back the firing squad as a method of execution in Utah. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, proposed the bill that would bring back the firing squad only in the event that lethal injection was not available. Ray told the Utah State Legislature’s interim law enforcement and criminal justice committee that he was being proactive.
The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison is seen after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad Friday, June 18, 2010 in Draper Utah. Four bullet holes are visible in the wood panel behind the chair. Gardner was convicted of aggravated murder, a capital felony, in 1985.(AP Photo/Trent Nelson/Pool)
Bullet holes are visible in the wood panel behind the chair in the execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad Friday, June 18, 2010 in Draper Utah.. Gardner was convicted of aggravated murder in 1985.(AP Photo/Trent Nelson/Pool)
FILE - In this Jan. 27, 2015, file photo, Randy Gardner of Salt Lake City, the older brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner, the last inmate to be killed by firing squad in Utah in 2010, protests with a group opposed to capital punishment plans over one lawmaker's plan to resurrect the use of firing squads, outside the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. A bill to resurrect the use of firing squads in Utah has passed its first hurdle at the state Legislature. A House law enforcement committee voted 5-4 late Wednesday afternoon to approve the measure, with Republicans and one Democrat voting against. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Bullet holes are visible in the wood panel behind the chair in the execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad Friday, June 18, 2010 in Draper Utah.. Gardner was convicted of aggravated murder in 1985.(AP Photo/Trent Nelson/Pool)
Chart shows number of executions since 1976 by method.
Emperor Maximilian's firing squad - Seven soldiers with bayoneted rifles stand at ease, in row formation, another soldier with sword at far right. Mexico, 1867
PATHS OF GLORY 1957 United Artists film directed by Stanley Kubrick. The execution scene.
Vintage photo of a Firing Squad With Rifles
Lawmakers have given a preliminary nod to bringing back the firing squad as a method of execution in Utah. Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, proposed the bill that would bring back the firing squad only in the event that lethal injection was not available. Ray told the Utah State Legislature’s interim law enforcement and criminal justice committee that he was being proactive.
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A hotly contested proposal that resurrects Utah's use of firing squads to carry out executions narrowly passed a key vote Friday in the state's Legislature after three missing lawmakers were summoned to break a tie vote.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 39-34 Friday morning to approve the measure, sending it to an uncertain fate in the state's GOP-controlled Senate. Leaders in that chamber have thus far declined to say if they'll support it, and Utah's Republican Gov. Gary Herbert won't say if he'll sign it.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, a Republican from Sandy, again declined to tell reporters on Friday if he'd support it.

Rep. Paul Ray, a Republican from Clearfield who is sponsoring the measure, said after the vote Friday that he thinks it will be just as close in the Senate, and he hasn't started trying to press his case in that chamber.

Lawmakers in House of Representatives initially voted 35-35 on the proposal Friday morning. But Ray asked for three missing lawmakers to be summoned to the floor, where they all voted in favor.

During that time, Riverton Republican Rep. Dan McCay switched to vote in favor, allowing the measure to pass 39-34. When asked later by The Associated Press about the switch, McCay smiled and walked away without commenting.

Ray argues that a team of trained marksmen is faster and more humane than the drawn-out deaths that have occurred in botched lethal injections. His bill would call for a firing squad if Utah cannot get lethal injection drugs 30 days before an execution.

Critics say the firing squad is a gruesome relic of Utah's Wild West past and would bring international condemnation upon the state. That criticism and excessive media attention was one of the reasons many lawmakers voted in 2004 to stop allowing condemned prisoners to choose death by firing squad.

A handful of inmates on Utah's death row were sentenced before the law changed and still have the option of going before a firing squad in a few years once they have exhausted any appeals. It was last used in 2010 when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles.

For years, states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates. But European drug makers have refused to sell the drugs to prisons and corrections departments out of opposition to the death penalty.

Drug shortages and troubles with administering lethal injections have led several states to begin revisiting alternatives during the past year

A bill to allow firing squad executions is working its way through Wyoming's Legislature, while lawmakers in Oklahoma are considering legislation that would allow that state to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates.

Ray has argued the firing squad is the fastest, most reliable method and the most humane way to kill someone.

The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, says that a firing squad is not a foolproof method because the inmate could move or shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, more painful death. One such case appears to have happened in Utah's territorial days back in 1879, when a firing squad missed Wallace Wilkerson's heart and it took him 27 minutes to die, according to newspaper accounts.

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Associated Press writer Kelly Catalfamo contributed to this report.

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