Utah brings back firing squads: State signs through law allowing return of 'gruesome' method of execution

Governor Gary Herbert says the state needs a back-up method of killing people as European sanctions against lethal injection exports take their toll

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Death by firing squad has returned to the US as a legal method of execution, after Utah’s governor signed through a bill approving the method even as he admitted it was “a little bit gruesome”.

Critics said the decision was cruel and “an embarrassment to Utah”, while the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said it made the state “look backward and backwoods”.

Firing squads will only be used as a back-up when the lethal injection is not available, as Utah feels the effects of European manufacturers’ refusal to export the components used in the drug.

Republican governor Gary Herbert defended the decision to make his state the only one in the US to offer the controversial method, insisting the state needed an alternative option to carry out the death penalty.

“We prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” his spokesman said.

“However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch.”

The bill's sponsor, Republican congressman Paul Ray, argued that a team of trained marksmen was faster and more decent than the drawn-out deaths involved when lethal injections go wrong – as happened in Oklahoma last year.

It could be years until Utah’s next execution – but Mr Ray said he wanted the issue settled now in case the drug shortage gets worse.

But Ralph Dellapiana, director of the group Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said it was a disgrace that state politicians were still trying to find new methods to execute people.

“It's an embarrassment to Utah,” Mr Dellapiana said. “We should be taking the moral lead on this. You can' be both pro-life and pro-death.”

Utah remains the only state in the past 40 years to have killed someone by firing squad, though it stopped offering the method to anyone sentenced after 2004 on the grounds that the intense media interest took attention away from victims.

The last convict killed by firing squad in the US was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. Sentenced for murder in Utah in 1985, his death at the hands of five police officers with rifles sparked condemnation from around the world.