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Utah backs revival of firing squad


The firing squad execution chamber at Utah State Prison in Draper (AP)

The firing squad execution chamber at Utah State Prison in Draper (AP)

The firing squad execution chamber at Utah State Prison in Draper (AP)

Utah politicians have backed a proposal to reintroduce execution by firing squad to avoid problems with lethal-injection drugs, 10 years after banning the practice.

The plan would call for a firing squad if the state cannot obtain the lethal injection drugs 30 days before the scheduled execution.

For years, US states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates, but European manufacturers have refused to sell them to prisons and corrections departments over opposition to the death penalty.

Utah axed firing squads out of concern about media attention, but Republican state member Paul Ray said it was the most humane way to execute someone because the person dies instantly.

"We have to have an option," he said. "If we go hanging, if we go to the guillotine, or we go to the firing squad, electric chair, you're still going to have the same circus atmosphere behind it. So is it really going to matter?"

An interim panel of Utah politicians approved the idea in a 9-2 vote. The proposal still needs to go through the full legislative process once the state convenes for its annual session in January.

Under current Utah law, death by firing squad is only an option for criminals sentenced to death before 2004. It was last used in 2010.

Mr Ray says his proposal gives Utah flexibility if it is unable to obtain the drugs needed in a lethal injection.

With supplies limited, states have scrambled to use different types, combinations and doses of lethal drugs, but those methods have been challenged in court.

Because of the challenges with the drugs and prolonged executions earlier this year in Oklahoma and Arizona, politicians in Utah and elsewhere are looking for alternatives.

Critics have said shooting an inmate is not without risks and will renew the intense media attention Utah had wanted to avoid.

Despite being restrained, an inmate could still move or the shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, painful death, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Centre, which opposes capital punishment.