Panic as killer opts for death by shooting

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The Independent Online
RUPERT CORNWELL

Washington

The penal authorities in Utah have been thrown into panic by the request of a convicted killer to go before a firing squad, rather than undergo lethal injection, on his scheduled execution day next month.

Since Gary Gilmore earned his niche in history by telling a firing squad "Let's do it" on 17 January 1977, the four other Utah executions have been carried out by lethal injection. Not, however, John Albert Taylor, sentenced to die on 26 January for the 1988 rape and murder of an 11-year- old girl.

Despite continuing to assert his innocence, Taylor abandoned further appeals last weekend. He insists, however, on exercising the option allowed by Utah, alone among states, of the firing squad. "I don't want to go flipping around like a fish out of water on that table," he is quoted as saying.

The request has sent the state scrambling to comply. The former prison cannery building where Gilmore was shot, strapped in a leather office chair in front of a bank of sandbags, has been demolished. There is no written protocol for the type of weapons to be used, the distance from the target and the required lighting conditions. Nor is it laid down how the five- man firing squad will be selected, and where they will practise.

"We've got a fair amount of work and not much time," a prison spokesman said. "It's always been assumed that when it comes down to it, people would choose lethal injection."

Gilmore's execution, a chaotic, carnival-like event which inspired Norman Mailer's book The Executioner's Song, marked the resumption of capital punishment after a 10-year hiatus. Since then there have been 311 executions, an unprecedented 54 in 1995 alone. America's total Death Row population stands at 3,021, according to Washington's Death Penalty Information Center.

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