Move to repeal Utah’s death penalty fails on Capitol Hill

Feb 14, 2022, 9:51 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2022, 9:25 am

(A firing squad chair in the execution chamber at Utah State Prison is pictured, as seen through th...

(A firing squad chair in the execution chamber at Utah State Prison is pictured, as seen through the rifle port, on May 5, 2004. Jeremy Harmon, Deseret News)

(A firing squad chair in the execution chamber at Utah State Prison is pictured, as seen through the rifle port, on May 5, 2004. Jeremy Harmon, Deseret News)

Sound up for live discussion with Dave and Dujanovic.



SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s death penalty will not be repealed this year.  After hours emotional debate on both sides about a bill that would have eliminated capital punishment, a House committee shot down the bill by the slimmest of margins.

Before the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee meeting even began, lawmakers knew HB 147 would face a lot of opposition.  Senator Dan McCay would have been the Senate sponsor had it passed the House, and even McCay believed if it were to pass through the legislative session, it would only do so by a razor-thin margin.

In the end, the opposite happened, and the committee voted against passing the bill by a 6-5 vote.  McCay told KSL Newsradio capital punishment is such a lengthy and expensive process. It doesn’t actually provide the justice that it promises.

McCay said, “More people die in prison of natural causes on death row than die from being either lethally injected or the firing squad, in the state of Utah.”

Representative Lowry Snow told the committee there were three main reasons why he wanted to repeal Utah’s death penalty and replace it with a prison sentence of 45 years to life.  First, he said the penalty was “broken,” meaning it’s costly and slow.  Second, he said it could cause more harm to victims’ families who have to endure countless appeals and litigation.  Third, he said the state runs the risk of sending innocent people to their deaths.

Innocent people sent to death row

Sharon Wright Weeks spoke in favor of the repeal.  Her sister, Brenda, and her niece, Erica, were killed by Ron and Dan Lafferty in 1984.  Ron Lafferty was sentenced to die, but eventually passed away from natural causes after 34 years in the prison system.  Wright Weeks said she waited for justice, which never really came.  In her personal search for answers, she believes she found evidence showing the system is deeply flawed.

(Death row inmate Douglas Stewart Carter, seen having his shackles removed in Provo’s 4th District Court on October 2, 2007. Photo: Al Hartmann, Deseret News)

She said, “My questions led me to information that people had been executed innocently, disposable people. And that there had been some exonerations from death row, at that time.”

Officials with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center said there have been 2,961 exonerations across the country since 1989. And 19 people have been exonerated this calendar year.  They also testified that three death row inmates were found to be innocent in 2021, although, none of them are from Utah.

Center officials also cited the case of Douglas Stewart Carter, who claims his murder confession was false and that star witnesses were threatened and paid off by the Provo Police Department in the 1980s.  However, Andrew Peterson from the Utah Attorney General’s Office said Carter never recanted his confession, and that he even confessed to other people immediately after his crime.

Critics call the bill a ‘false promise’

Peterson attended the meeting to speak out against repealing the death penalty on behalf of the Utah Attorney General.  He told committee members getting rid of capital punishment won’t prevent family members of murder victims from reliving the trauma they’ve suffered during a constant process of appeals.  Peterson said there’s a never-ending cycle of litigation in cases that don’t qualify for the death penalty, and family members already have to suffer through those.

“This bill will not end that cycle of endless litigation in non-capital cases,” Peterson said.

He also said the bill ignores the fact that some murderers can’t be safely imprisoned, in any way. Peterson argued that the death sentence shouldn’t be removed simply because the process takes a long time.

He said, “To repeal capital punishment based on delay is to wave the white flag of surrender to murderers who have a perverse incentive to delay resolution of their cases, and a judiciary that rewards them for those efforts.”

Capital punishment a ‘deterrent’

Some people speaking out against the repeal say the mere existence of the death penalty has helped the families of murder victims.  Bonnie Black is related to Elizabeth Shelley, who was reportedly murdered by Alexander Whipple in Logan in 2019.  Black said just the discussion of the death sentence made Whipple cooperate with investigators.

Black said, “It wasn’t until Alex was faced with the possibility of his own death that he finally agreed to end our suffering.  In exchange for removing the possibility of the death penalty, he drew a map to where he had hidden her.”

Other opponents of the bill worried it would have given convicted murderers a chance to eventually get a parole date, but the bill’s supporters say it would not be applied to any case before 2022.

Read more:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

riverton police department building...

Jessica Lowell

Riverton Police chief no longer working for city

A spokesperson for Riverton said the decision for Riverton Police Chief Blair Barfuss to leave his position was made yesterday.

8 hours ago

People take part in the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence in Salt Lake City on Saturda...

Waverly Golden and Mark Jackson

More than 400 Utahns have lost their lives to gun violence this year

This year, 456 Utahns have lost their lives to gun violence. In America, 40,264 people have died due to gun violence thus far.

11 hours ago

eight-year-old falls from second-story window in Eagle Mountain...

Derrick Jones

Eight-year-old falls from second-story window in Eagle Mountain

eight-year-old falls from second-story window in Eagle Mountain

1 day ago

A customer who threw a burrito bowl in a Chipotle worker's face in September has been sentenced to ...

Chris Isidore, CNN

Woman who threw bowl of food at Chipotle worker sentenced to work 2 months in fast food job

A New York woman who assaulted a Chipotle worker was sentenced to work two months in a fast food restaurant.

2 days ago

Parents anxiously wait outside UNLV shooting scene....

John Miller, Elizabeth Wolfe, Taylor Romine and Evan Perez, CNN

UNLV gunman was a career professor who had applied for a job at the school

The shooting began shortly before noon on the fourth floor of the university’s Beam Hall business school building at UNLV.

2 days ago

Shonie Christensen, domestic violence advocate and survivor, hugs Lindsey Boyer,...

Don Brinkerhoff

Service for domestic violence survivors expanding in Tooele

South Valley Services in Tooele has seen a spike in the need for services for survivors of domestic violence.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Move to repeal Utah’s death penalty fails on Capitol Hill