CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Two state lawmakers push to end death penalty in Utah

Sep 8, 2021, 11:39 AM | Updated: 2:58 pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah legislators want to put an end to the death penalty in the state. 

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, and Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, point out with just one execution in the state of Utah in the last 25 years, the death penalty already has effectively ended here.

Utah death penalty cases stay in limbo for decades

In 2010, Utah executed Ronnie Lee Gardner by firing squad for the 1984 murder of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed courtroom escape attempt. 

“And so you can see from 1984 to 2010, that’s 25 years the state was not able to bring justice to that situation and to the victims and the families,” McCay said in a meeting with the KSL/Deseret News Editorial Board. 

McCay argued the long legal process with death penalty cases just increases pain for victims’ families in Utah.

That sentiment seems to be backed up by the experiences of the family of Joyce Yost, a Utah woman presumed murdered in 1985. Her killer, Doug Lovell, ultimately confessed to the crime. He promised to lead investigators to her body in exchange for avoiding the death penalty, but her body never turned up. Lovell has been awaiting the death penalty since 1993. 

Alternative? Life without parole

Snow and McCay argue a sentence of life without the possibility of parole accomplishes the same goal as the death penalty, but without leaving families like Yost’s in limbo. 

“Every time that case is brought up into the public’s view, and it gets reported on and then it’s like a new injury to the family, every time,” McCay said. 

KSL reported earlier this year that death row inmates in Utah currently reside in the general prison population

McCay and Snow plan to introduce their legislation ending the death penalty in Utah in January. 

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Two state lawmakers push to end death penalty in Utah