SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Utah's House of Representatives approved a bill allowing the use of firing squads in executions.
The bill comes as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews Oklahoma's execution procedure, involving a combination of drugs, and a shortage of drugs for lethal injections from pharmaceutical companies reluctant to be liable for the results of botched executions. Utah's bill to return to the use of firing squads, stopped in 2004, was narrowly passed in the Republican-controlled House, and requires approval in the Senate, where Republicans are also in the majority. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has not indicated if he would sign the bill into law.
The bill specifies that a firing squad be available as backup if specified drugs for execution are not available 30 days prior to an execution, or if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional.
Last week Wyoming's House of Representatives passed a similar bill, which must be approved by the state Senate and the governor, with the added stipulation the inmate to be executed must be unconscious at the time of the execution. Opponents of the bill in Utah argue firing squads evoke images of Wild West justice, noting the state's execution by gunshot has its basis in the disavowed Mormon practice of "blood atonement."
The 32 states in which capital punishment remains legal have researched alternatives to lethal injection after pharmaceutical companies began refusing to supply necessary drugs, typically blended to provide a fatal dose. Attempts to employ compounding pharmacies, in secret, have met with legal roadblocks. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in January to hear a challenge to the use of the sedative midazolam in executions, a drug used in a botched attempt in April 2014 to kill inmate Clayton Lockett, who struggled until he was declared dead of a heart attack, 43 minutes after injection.