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FIRING-SQUAD MEASURE CANCELED FOR LACK OF INTEREST ON THE HILL

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A bill that would have removed the firing squad as an option for condemned killers Friday was dropped by its sponsor, who says she could not find support in the Utah Legislature.

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, said she'll try to bring the measure back next year "after I've had a chance to talk to some people."Allen introduced the bill over concerns that last month's firing-squad execution of John Albert Taylor would hurt Utah's image. Taylor, a convicted child rapist and murderer, was shot to death Jan. 26 amidst a furor of international publicity.

"I believe my bill has real merit," said Allen. "But it faced difficulties due to what happened to Mr. Taylor.

"I didn't want to push it before the execution and now, with just 18 days left in the session, I didn't think it would get a fair hearing," she said. "So I've decided to hold onto it."

Allen's decision came the same day as the release of a Deseret News-KSL poll showed that 59 percent of Utahns want to keep the firing squad as a death penalty option.

The newspaper also reported in a copyright story that condemned killer Ronnie Lee Gardner, who has chosen to die by lethal injection, is threatening to sue after a judge refused to let him change his mind and be shot.

She was unaware of the poll and said it played no role in her decision.

There are eight inmates on Utah's death row. Only one, Ralph LeRoy Menzies, is set to die by firing squad.

Only two states - Utah and Idaho - have a firing squad and Utah is unique because it gives the inmate a choice between the two. In Idaho, that decision is left to the director of prisons.

Taylor was the first inmate to die by firing squad in the United States since Utah executed Gary Mark Gilmore in 1977, ending a 10-year national hiatus on capital punishment.

Allen's initial intent was to remove the firing squad from the books altogether, but she later agreed to leave it as an option to be made by the director of the Department of Corrections.

She explained that in some cases, particularly inmates who have long abused intravenous drugs, administering a lethal injection can be difficult.

"In those kinds of cases, where there are medical reasons, then I have no problem with it," she said.

Corrections director Lane McCotter said he favors her bill. In fact, he said, he favors the firing squad over lethal injection in almost every case.

McCotter was involved in corrections in New Mexico and Texas before coming to Utah and has overseen a number of lethal injection executions. Taylor's was his first firing squad, and he said it is now his "personal preference."

"Frankly, the firing squad is easier because there is no need for any medical procedures," he said Friday.

The American Medical Association has banned doctors from any involvement in executions and that can be problematic if lethal injection is the only option available.

He particularly thinks the decision should be taken out of the hands of the condemned inmate. He pointed out that Taylor said he only chose the firing squad to make his death as difficult for the state as he could.

Gardner, for instance, told the Deseret News that he doesn't want someone else determining how he'll die.

"We have basically no other decisions on our own," he said. "That's one I'd like to keep."

But McCotter said Gardner and the others don't deserve to make that decision. "He just wants that blaze of glory."

"Sure the inmate will complain," McCotter added. "But they'll end up complaining no matter what you do."