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1/25/2018 7:38:29 AM
Posted: 5/29/2003 3:29:02 PM EST
[url]http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/29/national/29UTAH.html?ex=1055225248&ei=1&en[/url] Utah Officials Look for Firing Squad By MICHAEL JANOFSKY ALT LAKE CITY, May 28 — As it does now and again, Utah is looking for a few good marksmen. A search for volunteers began early this month after a state judge signed death warrants for two convicted murderers who have requested death by firing squad. Utah is one of only three states, along with Idaho and Oklahoma, where execution by a team of riflemen is available as an alternative to lethal injection. Of those three, only Utah has made good on the option, and only Utah allows the condemned to make the decision. Oklahoma law allows use of a firing squad if lethal injection and electrocution are ever ruled unconstitutional, and Idaho can use a firing squad when lethal injection is found to be "impractical," a circumstance that has yet to present itself. Seeking sharpshooters, the Utah Corrections Department has appealed to law enforcement agencies near the state prison in the town of Draper, just south of here, and in areas where the two men committed their crimes. "We've asked them to submit names of responsible people," said Jack Ford, a spokesman for the department. "It's standard practice." Two of the six prisoners executed in Utah since the United States Supreme Court allowed reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976 have chosen to die in a hail of bullets from a team of state-sanctioned riflemen. The first was Gary Mark Gilmore, a career criminal turned murderer who in 1977 became the first person in the nation put to death after the Supreme Court decision. The second was John Albert Taylor, who was executed in 1996 after raping and murdering a young girl. Now the state, one of 38 that allow capital punishment, has received the same request from Troy Michael Kell, an avowed white supremacist who stabbed a black prison inmate to death in 1994, and Roberto Arguelles, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and killing three teenage girls and a 42-year-old woman in 1992. Mr. Kell, whose execution date was set for June 27, would have been next, but he has undertaken appeals that are almost certain to delay his appearance before the firing squad for years. So it now appears that Mr. Arguelles will precede him into the death chamber, on June 28. Mr. Arguelles had until today to seek further review by a state trial court, but by the close of business this evening the court had recorded no such effort, though he retains a right of appeal to the federal courts. Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said death-row inmates sought alternative means of execution for a variety of reasons, one of them to demonstrate what they deem the barbaric nature of capital punishment, especially in states like Utah that only rarely carry out the death penalty. "They want to be on display," he said. "They want to show the state to be brutal and bloodthirsty, and raise questions about whether we're really comfortable with the death penalty. In a state like Texas, where so many executions occur, no one pays much attention. But in a state like Utah, this is front-page news, and it gets a lot of attention even though the end result is the same." Mr. Kell requested a firing squad only because he did not like the idea that poison would otherwise be injected into his veins, said Stephen R. McCaughey, a lawyer who represented him for many years. "It had nothing to do with his views of the death penalty," Mr. McCaughey said. It could not be determined why Mr. Arguelles had chosen a firing squad. Expressing a desire to die, he has declined legal representation, and Mr. Ford, the corrections spokesman, said Mr. Arguelles had neither articulated a reason for his choice nor agreed to explain his outlook in any interviews. In any event, the request of the two men has so far not caused much reaction in Utah, which has provided for the death penalty since its days as a territory. Back then, laws allowed for the condemned to be hanged, beheaded or shot, according to research by L. Kay Gillespie, chairman of the department of criminal justice at Weber State University, who has written extensively about Utah capital punishment. Mr. Gillespie says beheading was never actually used and was dropped as an option in 1888, eight years before statehood. But death by hanging and firing squad remained on the books until 1980, when lethal injection replaced hanging. Over the years, more than 40 men have been executed by Utah firing squads. Sheryl L. Allen, a Republican state lawmaker who favors the death penalty, drafted a bill in 1996 that would have banned firing squads. But after failing to gain support from party leaders, she never introduced it, and no similar measure has been proposed since. "It's a spectacle," Ms. Allen said of death by gunfire. "I don't know why we do it. "I might try again, but if I do, I want to make sure I have strong support. It's a very unpleasant subject."
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