A bill that would abolish the firing squad in carrying out the death penalty will be amended by a Senate committee to prevent three men from prolonging their sentences on Utah's death row.

HB180 makes lethal injection the state's primary method of execution and deletes a provision that lets the condemned choose the manner in which they can die.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, would also be retroactive to immediately stop use of a firing squad and the unwanted attention it brings to the state.

But in chilling and emotional testimony Tuesday, Matt Hunsaker, whose mother, Maurine, was kidnapped and murdered in 1986 by Ralph Menzies, begged the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to either abandon the bill or remove its retroactive clause.

Menzies, Taberone Dave Honi and Troy Kell are the three on death row who have elected to die by firing squad. Six others have opted for lethal injection.

Hunsaker, who read to senators the police report about the condition in which his mother's body was found, predicted Menzies would use the retroactive clause as a reason to appeal.

"If it was me, if there was a mouse in my jail cell, I'd appeal, " Hunsaker said.

Menzies has been appealing his conviction for 18 years.

Utah Sentencing Commission director Ron Gordon said a legal challenge of the clause should be expected. He estimated it could add several years to a convict's stay on death row.

Allen did not object to changing the bill, and the committee voted to hold the bill until Friday, when Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, is expected to offer an amendment that removes the retroactivity clause.

"These people have suffered enough," Knudson said of the victims' families.

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Hunsaker said following the meeting that he was pleased with the committee's reaction. After waiting 18 years for justice Hunsasker said he feared that Allen bill might somehow prevent Menzies from being executed.

Menzies had been scheduled to die last November, but that was halted after he appealed his conviction in federal court. Menzies was presumed to have exhausted his state court appeals, although a 3rd District Court judge is currently considering whether mistakes made by one of Menzies' attorneys prevented him from getting adequate due process. That ruling is expected Feb. 26.

"I came here with a lot of uncertainty today. I really feel good that the committee took our feelings into account and that they decided to eliminate (the retroactive clause). It shows that the little guy can make a difference," Hunsaker said. "I don't care what the method (of execution) is. I'm opposed to adding time to my families ordeal."


E-mail: jdobner@desnews.com

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