Utah passes bill to allow death by firing squad

Opponents say firing squad harks back to state's cruel 'Wild West' past

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Utah politicians have passed a bill that would allow the state to execute prisoners on death row by firing squad in the event the appropriate drugs for a lethal injection cannot be obtained.

Utah's proposal keeps lethal injection as the primary method of execution, but allows for the state to use firing squads if it cannot obtain the necessary drugs.

Foreign manufacturers of pentobarbital have refused to sell the drug to the US because of their opposition to it being used to carry out death sentences, leaving it in short supply.

Other drugs used in its place have sparked legal challenges from death row prisoners over whether their use is constitutional.

Republican Paul Ray, who sponsored the bill, claims it is a more humane method of execution in comparison with a recent spate of botched lethal injections.

Two examples include the cases of Clayton Lockett, who appeared to regain consciousness midway through his execution, and Joseph Wood, who took two hours to die and could be seen gasping for air.

Kelly Gissendaner was recently due to be the first woman sentenced to death in the US state of Georgia for 70 years, until she was granted a last minute stay as the drug set to be used for her lethal injection appeared cloudy.

"We would love to get the lethal injection worked out so we can continue with that but if not, now we have a backup plan," Mr Ray told the Associated Press.

Ralph Dellapiana, director of Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, condemned the bill as a “giant step backwards”. He called firing squads "a relic of a more barbaric past".

It is not yet clear if the bill will become law. Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, has not indicated if he will sign the measure.

Additional reporting by AP