Prominent author speaks with Utah lawmakers about the death penalty

Jan 19, 2022, 10:44 PM
utah death penalty...
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, talks to journalists while at the Capitol in Salt Lake City to meet with lawmakers on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, to discuss elimination of the death penalty in Utah. Photo credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An author whose work became an award-winning movie came to Utah Wednesday to speak with lawmakers about the death penalty.

Bryan Stevenson, whose 2019 memoir Just Mercy was turned into an NAACP Image Award-winning movie, spoke with Gov. Cox and other state lawmakers on Wednesday.

Stevenson says he believes in public safety but sees the death penalty as an obstacle to that safety.

“We’re wasting a lot of money in the pursuit of something that doesn’t, in my judgment, contribute to the health of a community,” Stevenson said.

During public comments, Stevenson was flanked by Rep. Lowry Snow (R-District 74) and Sen. Daniel McCay (R-District 11), the co-sponsors of a bill that would change the capital punishment law in Utah.

If passed, H.B. 147 would replace the death penalty with a prison sentence of 45 years to life, leaving life without parole as a possible sentence.

In September 2021, the Salt Lake County District Attorney, Utah County Attorney, and Summit County Attorney announced they supported the then-upcoming legislation. 

In the same month, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announced he would no longer seek the death penalty in cases brought to his office.

Stevenson wrote Just Mercy about his experiences defending a man on death row. His memoir became a major film starring Jamie Foxx, who won an NAACP Image Award for his performance.

He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative out of Montgomery, Alabama. Described as a human rights organization, EJI has won legal battles involving unfair sentencing. The organization has also helped exonerate innocent people on death row.

Simone Seikaly contributed.

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Prominent author speaks with Utah lawmakers about the death penalty