Governor signs law making Utah only state with firing squad

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Utah Re-Adopts Firing Squad, Other States May Follow

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah became the only state to allow firing squads for executions Monday when Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law approving the method's use when no lethal injection drugs are available.

Herbert has said he finds the firing squad "a little bit gruesome," but Utah is a capital punishment state and needs a backup execution method in case a shortage of the drugs persists.

"We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty, and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued," Herbert spokesman Marty Carpenter said.

However, enforcing death sentences is "the obligation of the executive branch," he said.

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Governor signs law making Utah only state with firing squad
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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The governor's office, in a statement announcing the new law, noted that other states allow execution methods other than lethal injection. In Washington state, inmates can request hanging. In New Hampshire, hangings are fallback if lethal injections can't be given. And an Oklahoma law would allow the state to use firing squads if lethal injections are ever declared unconstitutional.

Utah's approval of firing squads carries no such legal caveat and represents the latest example of frustration over botched executions and the difficulty of obtaining lethal injection drugs as manufacturers opposed to capital punishment have made them off-limits to prisons.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield, argued that a team of trained marksmen is faster and more decent than the drawn-out deaths involved when lethal injections go awry - or even if they go as planned.

Though Utah's next execution is probably a few years away, Ray said wants to settle on a backup method now so authorities are not racing to find a solution if the drug shortage drags on. Ray didn't return messages seeking comment Monday.

Opponents of the measure say firing squads are barbaric, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah saying the bill makes the state "look backward and backwoods."

Utah lawmakers stopped offering inmates the choice of firing squad in 2004, saying the method attracted intense media interest and took attention away from victims.

Utah is the only state in the past 40 years to carry out such a death sentence, with three executions by firing squad since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

The last was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was put to death by five police officers with .30-caliber Winchester rifles in an event that generated international interest and elicited condemnation from many.

Gardner killed a bartender and later shot a lawyer to death and wounded a bailiff during a 1985 courthouse escape attempt.

The bailiff's widow, VelDean Kirk, who witnessed Gardner's execution, said she supports the new law. "I don't think it's barbaric," she said. "I think that's the best way to do it."

Gardner's brother recently has spoken out against the method. Randy Gardner of Salt Lake City said Monday that he doesn't condone his brother's actions, but he opposes the death penalty and said firing squads make the state look bad.

"My god, we're the only ones that are shooting people in the heart," he said.

One person nearing a possible execution date is Ron Lafferty, the state's longest-serving death row inmate, who claimed God directed him to kill his sister-in-law and her baby daughter in 1984 because of the victim's resistance to his beliefs in polygamy.

Lafferty has already requested the firing squad - an option available to him even before this new law was passed because he, like Gardner, was convicted prior to 2004, when lawmakers stopped offering inmates the choice of firing squad.

The other Utah death row inmate who could be next up for execution, Doug Carter, has chosen lethal injection. Under this new law, Carter would get the firing squad if the state can't get their hands on lethal injection drugs 30 days before.

The state doesn't currently have lethal injection drugs on hand.

Earlier on AOL.com:

Could Firing Squad Executions Soon Come Back To Utah?

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