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U.S. House candidate Ross Anderson says the state of Utah "murdered" William Andrews in 1992 when Andrews was executed for his participation in the notorious Hi Fi Shop killings of 1974.

Anderson and fellow Democrat Kelly Atkinson and Republican Merrill Cook, all running for the 2nd Congressional District, were questioned about their beliefs on the death penalty and a variety of other issues during a debate before the local chapter of the NAACP in the Law and Justice Center on Monday night.The NAACP and other groups helped Andrews, who was black, with his death sentence appeals and strongly protested his execution.

Andrews and Dale Pierre Selby, who was also black, were airmen at Hill Air Force Base in 1974 when they robbed the Ogden Hi Fi Shop, torturing five employees and clients. Selby shot the victims, three of whom died.

Ongoing investigations and appeals showed that Andrews didn't shoot any of the victims and wasn't in the downstairs storeroom when they were shot. But he did help torture some of the victims by making them drink Drano and didn't stop Selby from shooting them. Selby was also executed for the murders.

Because Andrews and Selby were black and the victims white, a number of people in the community, including several minority groups, maintained that race was an issue in the trial and death sentences.

Anderson, an attorney who has provided free legal work on a number of civil liberty issues but does no criminal or capital punishment cases, has said previously that he's morally opposed to the death penalty. But he's added that only the press have asked him about that issue, saying the federal Congress has little to do with the death penalty.

But he was asked Monday about it by a citizen attending the NAACP meeting. After Atkinson said he supports the death penalty in some especially reprehensible cases, Anderson said: "I totally disagree. The death penalty brutalizes us as a society. It is arbitrary and capricious and falls (most often) on the illiterate, poor and African-Americans."

"When William Andrews was murdered by the state, he lost all promise in this world," said Anderson. Anderson said Andrews had reformed himself in prison, was a completely different person than when he entered 20 years before and had learned his lesson.

Cook then spoke, saying it is "irresponsible to say that the state murdered (Andrews)." Cook favors the death penalty.

On another issue of interest to those at the meeting, Anderson and Atkinson both said they support affirmative action programs and will fight hard to keep Congress from dismantling such programs.

Cook said he wants equal rights and equal opportunity for all Utahns but doesn't think setting quotas on the number of minorities hired, promoted or admitted to schools is the way to do it. Tax reform and proper stimulation of the economy will help everyone, he added.

Anderson said he opposes block-granting major federal programs because when that happens, the poor and disenfranchised are hurt. "It's outrageous to block grant. Look what the Utah Legislature has done to education; we trade places with Mississippi" in being the state which provides the smallest amount of money per pupil. The Legislature can't be trusted to deal fairly with block grants for education, welfare and Medicare, he said.

Atkinson and Cook said states are more innovative and effective in spending scarce money wisely. Less federal money is coming as Congress balances the budget and block grants are the best way to handle this reality, they said.