PROVO, Utah — Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announced on Wednesday that he would no longer seek the death penalty in cases brought to his office.
“Today I announce as the Utah County Attorney I will no longer seek the death penalty,” Leavitt said in a recorded statement.
The announcement comes as two Utah legislators announced their intentions to end death penalty punishment in Utah.
Leavitt said he was 13 years old when Gary Gilmore was placed on trial and found guilty of murdering Max Jensen and Bennie Bushnell in a trial that lasted just two days.
“Both Max and Bernie [sic] have faded from our collective memory, though they live on in the memory of their loved ones. Gary Gilmore, on the other hand, became a household name,” Leavitt said.
“At the conclusion of the two-day jury trial, the jury convicted (Gilmore) of both murders and gave him a death penalty. A firing squad executed Gary Gilmore three months after his trial. The entire ordeal from murder to jury trial to execution took barely over six months.”
That was the opposite of what Leavitt said happened to Ron and Dan Lafferty eight years later.
“I was 21 years old and I remember the tragedy of it,” Leavitt said. “The Lafferty jury trial lasted nine days. The jury convicted them both. The jury gave Ron the death penalty. However, it allowed Dan Lafferty life without the possibility of parole.
“Despite receiving the death penalty, Ron Lafferty was never executed. The appeals process was still pending when he died of natural causes.
Leavitt said in those 35 years he was able to finish college, law school and spend nearly three decades practicing law. A practice that he said eventually led him to the decision to seek the death penalty for another murder case in Utah County.
“That decision has required an enormous expenditure of resources both in time and taxpayer dollars, all of what we’ve spent, and more would be worth it if it would prevent another senseless murder from occurring,” Leavitt said.
But it doesn’t, and it won’t, pretending that the death penalty will somehow curb crime is simply a lie.”
Leavitt said the key to making communities safer and preventing “these types of horrible crimes is education and prevention before they occur.”
He added that his responsibility is to all victims of crime in Utah County and that the resources committed to seeking the death penalty limited his office’s ability to assist and care for victims of other crimes.
He added that the position he is taking won’t stop his office from aggressively prosecuting homicide cases, but will make the community safer.
“What we have learned is that the death penalty does not promote community safety and is not an effective deterrent. It simply demonstrates our societal preference for retribution over public safety.
“My commitment to you when I took office was to focus our efforts at community protection, rather than on methods of the past that have long since proven ineffective, focusing on all victims. … no longer seeking the death penalty advances that commitment.”
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