Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Growing Conservative Coalition Calls Death Penalty Into Question

Photo of fence outside Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah.
Kelsie Moore
Previous attempts to repeal the death penalty in Utah have died in the state House of Representatives. But Darcy Van Orden of the Utah Justice Coalition says that will change in 2020.

The group, Conservatives Concerned About The Death Penalty, is just what it sounds: conservatives across the country questioning the use of capital punishment. 

The group’s members include hundreds of conservatives from 44 states — including Utah.

“When people become more educated on this issue, they tend to be in our camp,” Darcy Van Orden, the leader of the Utah chapter, told KUER following a news conference held by the group on Monday morning. 

Van Orden is also the founder of the Utah Justice Coalition — an organization that, among other things, is working to repeal the death penalty in the beehive state. She says that Utah may see the end of capital punishment as soon as 2020. The prediction comes only a few months after the federal government declared this summer that it would resume applying the death penalty for the first time in nearly two decades. 

There have been two other attempts to repeal the death penalty in recent years. 

In 2016, a bill to ban the practice narrowly passed in the state Senate but never saw a debate in the House. Two years later, another bill died in the House.

Despite the unsuccessful track record so far, Van Orden predicts the issue’s non-partisan nature means the tide will turn soon.

“I really do believe that this issue resonates strongly with conservative values,” she said. “But it’s not limited to that.”

Van Orden says her confidence stems from a handful of new Republican lawmakers who support her organization’s cause. 

She also points to greater education among sitting lawmakers regarding the financial burden of the death penalty, the fallibility of the criminal justice system and the philosophical dissonance of being pro-life but for capital punishment. All of that, she says, adds up to growing support.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.