Capital punishment in Utah

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The execution chamber in Utah State Prison. The platform to the left is used for lethal injection. The metal chair to the right is used for execution by firing squad.

Capital punishment is legal in the U.S. state of Utah. Aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of death under Utah law. Lethal injection is the state's execution method of choice; however, the firing squad is also available in certain circumstances. As of May 8, 2011, nine people are under a sentence of death in the state.[1] Since 1850, 51 individuals have been executed in Utah. It was the first state to resume executions after the 1967-1976 national moratorium on capital punishment.

History and current practices[edit]

The spring 1850 garroting of Patsowits, a Ute, was the first recorded execution in the provisional State of Deseret.[2] Utah Territory was established in September 1850, and it permitted condemned prisoners to choose between hanging and firing squad. In 1851 beheading was introduced as a third execution option.[3] No prisoner chose this method and the option was eliminated in 1888.[4] In 1955, Utah state lawmakers voted to introduce the electric chair; however, the state never used electrocution due to failure to provide appropriation.[5] Forty-four executions occurred in the State of Utah and Utah Territory before the national moratorium in 1967;[6] six were by hanging and 38 were by firing squad.[7] The last pre-moratorium execution in Utah took place on March 30, 1960.

A rally at the Utah State Capitol protests the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner.

In 1967 when the moratorium went into effect, Utah was the only remaining state to allow death row inmates to choose between firing squad and hanging.[5][8] Utah attempted to reintroduce death penalty statutes during the moratorium but they were struck down by the 1972 United States Supreme Court decision in the case Furman v. Georgia.[9] The state formally reinstated capital punishment on January 7, 1973[10] and the new death penalty statutes were approved by the United States Supreme Court with the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. The reinstatement allowed Utah to move forward with the death sentences of Dale Selby Pierre and William Andrews for crimes committed in 1974 prior to the reinstatement of capital punishment. (They were later executed in 1987 and 1992, respectively.) On January 17, 1977, Utah became the first state to execute a prisoner after the moratorium ended: Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad,[11] having selected that method over hanging. In 1958 twenty-one-year-old Barton Kay Kirkham became the last prisoner to be hanged by the state of Utah.[12] Lethal injection was introduced in 1980[8] and in February of that year the Utah State Legislature replaced the option of hanging with the option of lethal injection.[13]

The first bill proposing to eliminate the firing squad option was introduced in the Utah House of Representatives in January 1996.[14] In 2004, the legislature passed HB180, which removed the right of the condemned to choose the method of execution and left lethal injection as the only remaining option in the state.[15][16] The abolition of the firing squad was not retroactive; three inmates on death row at Utah State Prison who chose this method of execution before the end of February 2004 will be executed by firing squad under a grandfather clause.[16] Utah's most recent execution, that of 49-year-old Ronnie Lee Gardner on June 18, 2010, was the state's third execution by firing squad since the capital punishment moratorium was lifted, and the country's first sanctioned shooting in 14 years.[15] Legislation signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March 2015 restores the firing squad as a legal method of execution, requiring its use if the state is unable to obtain the necessary lethal injection drugs within 30 days of a scheduled execution.[17][18]

Utah is the only state besides Nevada to have ever used the firing squad, although executions of this type are authorized in Oklahoma for prisoners who successfully challenge the constitutionality of lethal injection and electrocution.

Executions in Utah are currently performed at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah.[19] Because the ethics standards of the American Medical Association forbid physician involvement in executions, other healthcare professionals including paramedics and nurses perform executions in Utah.[20] Paramedics and nurses, however, are also forbidden from participation in executions by their own professional organizations' ethics codes.[21][22][23] The prison protects the anonymity of professionals involved in executions, making it impossible for professional organizations to impose sanctions.[24]

Conviction and sentencing process[edit]

Convicts who were under 18 at the time of commission of the crime[25] and convicts who are mentally retarded[26] are protected from the death penalty in Utah, as they are in all states, under federal law. Defendants in capital cases in the state of Utah may choose either a jury trial or a bench trial in which the judge alone decides the verdict and sentence. John Albert Taylor is the only Utah defendant to waive his jury right. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1989 by 2nd District Court Judge David Roth in Weber County. Clemency rests with the State of Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, of which the Governor of Utah is a member, making Utah one of a handful of states where the Governor does not have the sole power to grant clemency.[27] As of 2008 no commutation of the death sentence has been given in Utah.[27]

Definition of aggravated murder[edit]

Under Utah law, aggravated murder is the only crime subject to the penalty of death. It is defined as follows:[28]

  • The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or depraved (or involved torture).
  • The murder was committed incident to a hijacking.
  • The defendant knowingly created a grave risk of death for one or more persons in addition to the victim of the offense.
  • The defendant committed or attempted to commit more than one murder at the same time.
  • The murder was committed by means of poison or a lethal substance.
  • The murder was committed for pecuniary gain or pursuant to an agreement that the defendant would receive something of value.
  • The defendant caused or directed another to commit murder, or the defendant procured the commission of the offense by payment, promise of payment, or anything of pecuniary value.
  • The murder was committed to avoid or prevent arrest, to effect an escape, or to conceal the commission of a crime.
  • The capital offense was committed to interfere with the lawful exercise of any government function or the enforcement of the laws.
  • The defendant has been convicted of, or committed, a prior murder, a felony involving violence, or other serious felony.
  • The capital offense was committed by a person who is incarcerated, has escaped, is on probation, is in jail, or is under a sentence of imprisonment. The actor was under a sentence of life imprisonment or a sentence of death at the time of the homicide.
  • The victim is or has been a local, state, or federal public official, or a candidate for public office, and the homicide is based on, is caused by, or is related to that official position, act, capacity, or candidacy.
  • The murder was committed against a person held as a shield, as a hostage, or for ransom.
  • The murder was committed against a witness in a criminal proceeding to prevent the witness from appearing, or for revenge.
  • The homicide was committed while the actor was engaged in, or attempted to, or flight from committed or attempted child abuse.
  • The defendant was involved in the desecration of a dead human body or dismembering, mutilation, or disfiguring of the victim's body, either before or after death, in a manner demonstrating the actor’s depravity of mind. The homicide was committed incident to the abuse or desecration of a dead body.
  • The murder was committed by means of any weapon of mass destruction.

Individuals executed in Utah[edit]

# Name Date of execution Method of execution Victim(s) Governor
Patsowits[2] and his brother [29] Spring 1850 garroting Patsowits killed an emigrant settler and his brother had made several death threats[29]
An emigrant[30] 1850 Beheading
Antelope and Long Hair[31] September 15, 1854 hanging Two sons of a Mormon bishop in Cedar Valley[31][32] Brigham Young
3 Thomas H. Ferguson[33] October 28, 1858[34] hanging Alexander Carpenter[35] Alfred Cumming
4 William Cockcroft[34] September 21, 1861 firing squad Robert Brown vacant
"Unknown Man"[6] 1862 firing squad Unknown person
5 Jason R. Luce[36] January 12, 1864 firing squad Samuel R. Bunton[37] James Duane Doty
6 Robert Sutton[38] October 10, 1866 firing squad Frederick White[35] Charles Durkee
7 Chauncy W. Millard[38] January 29, 1869 firing squad Harlem P. Swett[36] vacant
8 John Doyle Lee March 23, 1877 firing squad Mountain Meadows massacre George W. Emery
9 Wallace Wilkerson[3] May 16, 1879 firing squad (botched)[2] William Baxter
10 Frederick Hopt (a.k.a. Fred Welcome)[39] August 11, 1887 firing squad John Franklin Turner Caleb Walton West
11 Enoch Davis[40] September 14, 1894 firing squad Enoch's wife
An American Indian man[29] 1896 A white woman
12 Charles H. Thiede[41] August 7, 1896 hanging Thiede's wife Heber Manning Wells
13 Pat Coughlin[42] December 15, 1896 firing squad Deputy Sherriff Dawes and Constable Stagg
14 Peter Mortensen[43] November 20, 1903 firing squad James R. Hay[44]
15 Frank Rose[43] April 22, 1904 firing squad Rose's wife
16 J. J. Morris[6] April 30, 1912 hanging[32] Morris' wife[45] William Spry
17 Jules C. E. Szirmay (a.k.a. Jules Zirmay)[6] May 22, 1912 firing squad A school boy
18 Harry Thorne[46] September 26, 1912 firing squad A grocery clerk
19 Thomas Riley[6] October 24, 1912 firing squad A grocery clerk
20 Frank Romeo[46] February 20, 1913 firing squad Albert Jenkins[47]
21 Joe Hill November 19, 1915 firing squad John G. Morrison and his son Arlington
22 Howard DeWeese[48] May 24, 1918 firing squad His wife Simon Bamberger
23 John Borich[48] January 20, 1919 firing squad A woman for insurance money
24 Steve Maslich[6] January 20, 1922 firing squad A man in Salt Lake City Charles R. Mabey
25 Nick Oblizalo[6] June 9, 1922 firing squad A man in Salt Lake City
26 George H. Gardner[49] August 31, 1923 firing squad Joseph Irvine and a police officer
27 Omer R. Woods[50] January 18, 1924 firing squad Woods' invalid wife
28 Henry C. Hett (a.k.a. George Allen)[50] February 20, 1925 firing squad Police sergeant Pierce George Dern
29 Pedro Cano[51] May 19, 1925 firing squad A woman in Park City
30 Ralph W. Seyboldt[52] January 15, 1926 firing squad Patrolman David H Crowther
31 Edward McGowan[53] February 5, 1926 firing squad Bob Blevins (and raped his wife and daughters)[53][54]
32 Delbert Green[55] July 10, 1936 firing squad Green's foster father/uncle James Green, mother-in-law/aunt, and wife Henry H. Blood
33 John W. Deering[56] October 31, 1938 firing squad Oliver R. Meredith Jr.
34 Donald Lawton Condit[57] July 30, 1942 firing squad Harold A. Thorne Herbert B. Maw
35 Robert Walter Avery[58] February 5, 1943 firing squad Detective Hoyt L. Gates
36 Austin Cox Jr.[59] June 19, 1944 firing squad Judge Lewis V. Trueman (also killed two other men and two women)
37 James Joseph Roedl[60] July 13, 1945 firing squad Abigail Agnes Williams
38 Eliseo J. Mares Jr.[61] September 10, 1951 firing squad Jack D. Stallings J. Bracken Lee
39 Ray Dempsey Gardner[60] September 29, 1951 firing squad Shirley Jean Gretzinger
40 Don Jesse Neal[62] July 1, 1955 firing squad Sgt. Owen T. Farley
Verne Alfred Braasch and Melvin Leroy Sullivan[63] May 11, 1956 firing squad Howard Manzione[64]
43 Barton Kay Kirkham June 7, 1958 hanging (last in Utah) David Avon Frame (also killed Ruth Holmes Webster but was executed for murdering Frame) George Dewey Clyde
44 James W. Rodgers[65] March 30, 1960 firing squad[66] Charles Merrifield[67]
45 Gary Gilmore January 17, 1977 firing squad Ben Bushnell and Max David Jensen Scott M. Matheson
46 Dale Selby Pierre August 28, 1987 lethal injection Stanley Walker, Michelle Ansley, and Carol Naisbitt Norman Bangerter
47 Arthur Bishop June 10, 1988 lethal injection Alonzo Daniels, Kim Peterson, Danny Davis, Troy Ward, and Graeme Cunningham
48 William Andrews July 30, 1992 lethal injection Stanley Walker, Michelle Ansley, and Carol Naisbitt
49 John Albert Taylor January 27, 1996 firing squad Charla Nicole King Michael Leavitt
50 Joseph Mitchell Parsons October 15, 1999 lethal injection Richard Lynn Ernest
51 Ronnie Lee Gardner June 18, 2010 firing squad Michael Burdell (also killed Melvyn Otterstrom and wounded George "Nick" Kirk but was executed for murdering Burdell) Gary Herbert

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Inmates Currently on Death Row". Utah Department of Corrections. Retrieved May 8, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c Schindler, Hal (January 28, 1996). "Taylor's Death Was Quick . . . But Some Weren't So Lucky". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  3. ^ a b "The Death Penalty for Murder". Deseret Evening News. George Q. Cannon, Brigham Young. May 16, 1879. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  4. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (June 4, 2010). "Is 'blood atonement' behind Utah firing squad request?". Scripps News. Retrieved 2010-10-06. 
  5. ^ a b "UTAH: Tales of the Firing Squad". Time. July 11, 1955. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Martz, Maxine (January 15, 1977). "Gilmore would be No. 45 on death list". Deseret News. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  7. ^ "2 More Inmates In 'Death Row' At State Prison". Deseret News. March 31, 1960. p. 4B. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  8. ^ a b Utah History Encyclopedia
  9. ^ Furman v. Georgia
  10. ^ Death Penalty Information Center Archived May 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Death Penalty Information Center Archived April 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Metcalf Jr., Dan (June 17, 2010). "History of Utah executions". KTVX. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Utah bans executions by hanging". Lawrence Journal-World. Associated Press. March 9, 1980. p. 1. Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  14. ^ Donaldson, Amy (January 26, 1996). "Firing squad carries out execution". Deseret News. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  15. ^ a b "Utah firing squad executes US killer Ronnie Lee Gardner". BBC News. June 18, 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  16. ^ a b Dobner, Jennifer (January 22, 2004). "Plan to abolish firing squad advances". Deseret News. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2010-10-03. 
  17. ^ HB0011
  18. ^ Herbert signs firing squad alternate for executions into law
  19. ^ Methods of Execution
  20. ^ The Deseret News - Google News Archive Search
  21. ^
  22. ^ MMS: Error
  23. ^
  24. ^ Practicing Medicine on Death Row
  25. ^ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005)
  26. ^ Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002)
  27. ^ a b Clemency
  28. ^ Crimes Punishable by the Death Penalty | Death Penalty Information Center
  29. ^ a b c The Unforgiven – 02 |
  30. ^ Utah History to Go
  31. ^ a b "Utah: Tales of the Firing Squad". Time. July 11, 1955. Retrieved February 13, 2011. 
  32. ^ Schindler, Hal (June 27, 1993). "Lengthy Gallows Soliloquoy [sic] Impedes Swift Justice". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  33. ^ a b Schindler, Hal (August 27, 1995). "The Disappearance of John Baptiste Grave: Robber's Case Is 'A Lost Page of History'". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  34. ^ a b Elder, Robert K.; Terkel, Studs (2010). Last Words of the Executed. University of Chicago Press. p. 107. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  35. ^ "Affairs in Utah: A Murder Theatricals and Lectures Mercantile". New York Times. May 16, 1879. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  36. ^ Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 110. 
  37. ^ Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 111. 
  38. ^ Wilson, R. Michael (2007). Frontier Justice in the Wild West: Bungled, Bizarre, and Fascinating Executions. Globe Pequot. p. 106. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  39. ^ Salt Lake Herald December 16, 1896 also .p.4; on July 30, 1895 he had killed Deputy Sheriff Edward N. Dawes of Unita County Wyoming [1] and Constable Thomas Stagg of Echo County Utah [2] See also: [3] find a grave entry
  40. ^ a b Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 112. 
  41. ^ "Peter Mortensen Must Die— Prisoner Stunned By News". Deseret News. August 13, 1903. p. 1. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  42. ^ "Hidden Rifles to Fulfill Execution Wish of Slayer". The Pittsburgh Press. 55 (123). United Press International. October 27, 1938. p. 2. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  43. ^ a b Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 113. 
  44. ^ Pratt, Harmel L. (1914). Reports of cases decided in the Supreme Court of the state of Utah, Vol. 42. A.L. Bancroft & Company. p. 48. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  45. ^ a b Cutler, Christopher Q. (2002). "Nothing less than the Dignity of Man: Evolving Standards, Botched Executions and Utah's Controversial Use of the Firing Squad". Cleveland State Law Review. Retrieved 2010-11-10.  (subscription required)
  46. ^ Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 116. 
  47. ^ a b Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 117. 
  48. ^ Gillespie, L. Kay (1997). The Unforgiven: Utah's Executed Men. Signature Books. p. 100. Retrieved 2010-11-01. 
  49. ^ "Firing Squad Kills Slayer". Los Angeles Times. January 16, 1926. p. 6. Retrieved 2010-11-10.  (subscription required)
  50. ^ a b Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 118. 
  51. ^ Gillespie (1997). The Unforgiven. p. 105. 
  52. ^ "Utah Firing Squad Executes Slayer". The Evening Independent. Associated Press. July 10, 1936. p. 8. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  53. ^ Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 119. 
  54. ^ "Murderer Killed By Firing Squad". The Palm Beach Post. Associated Press. July 31, 1942. p. 5. Retrieved 2010-11-10. 
  55. ^ Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 120. 
  56. ^ "Killer of Five Executed by Utah Firing Squad". The Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. June 19, 1944. p. 5. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  57. ^ a b Elder; et al. (2010). Last Words of the Executed. p. 121. 
  58. ^ "Utah Firing Squad Executes Slayer". The Pittsburgh Press. United Press International. September 10, 1951. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  59. ^ "Condemned Killer Dies Before Utah Firing Squad". Oxnard Press-Courier. United Press International. July 1, 1955. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  60. ^ Benedict, Howard S. (May 11, 1956). "Utah Executes Two Murderers". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. p. 2. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  61. ^ "Utah Killers Face Firing Squad oday". The Lewiston Daily Sun. Associated Press. May 11, 1956. p. 20. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  62. ^ "Slayer Shot By Firing Squad". The Milwaukee Sentinel. United Press International. March 31, 1960. p. 3. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  63. ^ Beecham, Bill (November 11, 1976). "Convicted Killer Gets His Wish: Firing Squad Monday". The Telegraph (Nashua). Associated Press. p. 22. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  64. ^ "Grim Jokes Are Tossed Before Death". The Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. March 31, 1960. p. 19. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 

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