Utah Set To Reinstate Firing Squad Executions Amid Lethal Injection Drug Shortage

US State Plans To Reinstate 'Wild West-Style' Executions

Utah's state government has voted to resume firing squad executions while the state struggles with a nationwide shortage of lethal injection drug pentobarbital.

Having ended the "wild west sideshow" method of capital punishment in 2004, the state's legislators have been debating the option since December as an "execution backup" if lethal injections cannot be obtained.

Following an 18-10 vote in the State Senate, the bill still needs the approval of Governor Gary Herbert, who has the constitutional power to veto the law.

Utah State Governor Gary Herbert

Gov. Herbert, a Republican, has not made it clear whether he will sign the bill into law or veto it.

"If those substances cannot be obtained, this proposal would make sure that those instructed to carry out the lawful order of the court and the carefully deliberated decision of the jury can do so," he said.

"Our state, as is the case with states around the country, is finding it increasingly difficult to obtain the substances required to perform a lethal injection.

"We are dedicated to pursuing all reasonable and legal options to obtain those substances to make sure that, when required, we are in a position to carry out this very serious sentence by lethal injection."

A 2010 file photo shows the firing squad execution chamber at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah

State congressman Paul Ray authored and sponsored the bill, citing firing squad as the next most humane death penalty.

"Any form of death is obviously a serious subject, so the two reasons I chose it were, obviously, No. 1, that’s what we’ve done in the past, and secondly, out of all the other options, it is the most humane," Ray told the Los Angeles Times.

"We can either revert to the firing squad and get it taken care of, or we can spend millions of dollars trying to mitigate lethal injection."

A similar bill failed to pass the Wyoming state legislature earlier this year.

Republican Representative Paul Ray introduced the bill to the Utah State Capitol

Other states using the death penalty have also been hit by the drug shortage, which has largely been caused by the European pharmaceutical manufacturer ceasing the sale of pentobarbital to US prisons on ethical grounds.

Oklahoma have also been weighing up their options following the botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett. The convicted rapist and murderer writhed and convulsed on the execution table, taking 43 minutes to die, because a substitute drug, midazolam, had been used in place of pentobarbital.

In a more recent case, the execution of Kelly Renee Gissendaner was delayed due to a "cloudy" drug.

An execution chamber in Texas

Lethal injection has long been considered the most humane and painless way to carry out an execution, but several failures in recent years have pushed lawmakers to consider other avenues, although no states have considered repealing the punishment altogether. Tennessee reinstated the electric chair but death row inmates sued to block its use.

A law change in 2004 made lethal injections the automatic default method of state-sponsored execution in Utah, with firing squad only remaining legal as a constitutional fail-safe.

But prisoners sentenced before then were still able to choose firing squad as their method of execution, the last case being the lawful killing of Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010.

Ronnie Lee Gardner's older brother Randy protests outside the Utah State Capitol

Gardner apparently chose firing squad because he hoped it would stir up controversy and a debate about capital punishment.

If Rep. Ray's bill is signed into law, prisoners will not have the choice, firing squads will be used by default if the appropriate lethal injection drugs cannot be secured 30 days before the scheduled execution date.

"It's not humane at all," Gardner's brother Randy told NBC. "I got to see the four bullet wounds in my brother's chest after the execution and I could have put my hand in there. It's cruel and unusual punishment for sure."

Hanging - Rainey Bethea

Executions - Famous Death Row Inmates

Before You Go