Bringing Back the Firing Squad

Nevada has more than 80 prison inmates on death row, but no one’s been put to death since 2006 and no executions are scheduled. Now state prisons Chief Greg Cox wants $800,000 to build a death chamber at Ely State Prison about 35 miles west of the Utah line and another $7.6 million for a hundred more guards.

Talk about another waste of tax money.

Nevada lawmakers should consider the route Utah is taking. A recent proposal to bring back Utah’s use of firing squads to carry out executions passed Utah’s legislature.

For years, states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates. But European drug makers have refused to sell the drugs to prisons and corrections departments out of opposition to the death penalty.

The drug shortage and trouble with administering lethal injections have led several states to begin revisiting alternatives during the past year. A bill to allow firing squad executions is working its way through Wyoming’s Legislature, while lawmakers in Oklahoma are considering legislation that would allow that state to use nitrogen gas to execute inmates.

A handful of inmates on Utah’s death row, sentenced before the law changed, still have the option of going before a firing squad once they’ve exhausted all appeals. It was last used in 2010 when Ronnie Lee Gardner was successfully  executed by five police officers using .30-caliber Winchester rifles.

Doug Fabrizio, one of a small group of witnesses described Gardner reaction after being shot to ABC News: “He clenched his fist and then let go and then he clenched it again.”

Two minutes later, Gardner was dead.

Washington D.C. – based, Death Penalty Information Center says firing squads are not foolproof because the inmate could move or shooters could miss the heart, causing a slower, more painful death. One such case they point out happened in 1879 when Utah was still a territory.

In an article titled, “Six Men Legally Killed”, the New York Times’ May 16, 1879 edition describes Wallace Wilkerson’s death as he sat unrestrained before the firing squad: “Wilkerson leaped from the chair exclaiming, “Oh, God” fell forward on his face, and continued writhing and gasping for 27 minutes, when the physicians pronounced him dead.”

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