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Abolishing the Death Penalty To Get Senate Debate

Thomas Hawk
Flickr Creative Commons
Utah senators are on track to talk about abolishing the death penalty in Utah.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, says capital punishment makes sense in theory, but its true costs are prompting him to question whether the state should continue executing criminals. His Senate Bill 189 would abolish the death penalty for future capital cases.

Jensie Anderson, president of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Project, says 4 percent of those condemned to death are later proven innocent.

“Because the death penalty is the perfect, irrefutable and un-reversible punishment,” she told senators in a Tuesday hearing, “it is indefensible to have it in an imperfect system.”

But death-penalty supporters don’t see any reason for change. One is the director of conservative Utah Eagle Forum, Maryann Christensen.

“When we take the life of a heinous murderer and a repeat offender, it honors the lives of the people whose lives were taken by him,” she said at the hearing.

At least one senator says capital punishment is too emotional to take up so late in the session.  But Urquhart insisted Tuesday that the real-world stakes of capital punishment are too high to ignore for victims, the condemned and society as a whole.

“Think about this, the craven insanity of this,” he urged members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Here’s a prosecutor, a government employee, who said the inevitability of a mistake should not serve as grounds to eliminate the death penalty. Yes, it should.”

Urquhart’s legislation to end the death penalty in Utah, passed committee, 5 to 2. It’s now on the list of bills to be discussed during the final two weeks of the 2016 legislative session.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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