US death penalty: Wyoming may allow firing squads in executions

State hatches back-up plan in the event lethal injections are banned in the US

With numerous questions swirling around lethal injections as a method of execution in the US, one state has voted to revert to the use of a firing squad to ensure prisoners get executed even if lethal injections aren’t possible.

The Wyoming state Senate earlier this month passed a piece of legislation that would authorize firing squads to become the back-up method of execution in the state, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

Lethal injections have come under fire in the US in the last year after the state of Oklahoma botched the execution of a death row inmate in April. Clayton Lockett was to be put to death last year via lethal injection, but officials had trouble administering his IV and Lockett was alive for 43 minutes, at times writhing in pain.

An independent investigation found the poorly placed IV caused Lockett’s drawn-out execution, not the combination of drugs used. But that hasn’t stopped three Oklahoma death-row inmates from bringing a case claiming lethal injections qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.

The US Supreme Court last week announced it would hear the Oklahoma case and a ruling there could impact lethal injections across the US. Wyoming’s legislation again legalizing firing squads provides the state with a fall back in the event the Supreme Court rules that lethal injections are unconstitutional.

But even if the status of lethal injections as the preferred method of execution in the US remains, states have sometimes found it difficult to get the drugs, as pharmaceutics companies have been hesitant to sell the drugs, not wishing to associate themselves with executions.

If the Wyoming bill becomes law, it would be the only state that allows the firing squad as a method of execution. Utah banned the firing squad in 2004, except in the case of a death-row inmate elected to face the firing square prior to 2004. The last time Utah executed a prisoner by firing squad was 2010, according to reports.

Utah’s state government is considering a bill that would reinstate the option of a firing squad, but no decision has been made. Nine additional states have a backup plan for executions, including both hanging and the electric chair.

After the Wyoming bill's passage in the state Senate, it is now in the state House of Representatives and will receive a vote in that chamber. If the House approves the bill, it will go to the governor's desk for a signature that will make it law.

Even if Wyoming starts allowing execution by firing squad, it’s not guaranteed any such execution would happen. Wyoming is the least populated state in the US and has no one on death row. Only one prisoner has been executed in the state since 1976, according to reports.


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