The full Utah House will get the opportunity to debate repealing the death penalty after a house committee narrowly voted to send it forward.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice committee spent more than an hour discussing Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart’s bill, SB189. It would remove the state’s ability to charge someone with a capital offense. The hearing was emotional as family members of people who had been murdered testified both for and against a repeal.
“Can you guarantee me and my family by pushing this forward that you will not create another appeal for me," asked Matt Hunsaker. "Because the nine inmates on death row right now aren’t going to be a part of this whole no death penalty thing, but I will guarantee you, living the 30 years I have, this man will file something.”
His mother, Maurine Hunsaker, was murdered in 1986 by Ralph Menzies, who’s still waiting on death row to be executed. But Hunsaker says, even after waiting more than 30 years, his family still wants, and expects justice to be served.
Steven Shapiro also testified at the hearing. His mother and father were murdered four years ago in Arizona. He said getting a sentence of life without parole for his parents’ murderer would be quicker and cause less pain to his family. Shapiro also said it would be a tougher sentence, because convicts often receive emotional support during the drawn out appeals process.
“I don’t want the person who’s convicted of that crime of killing my relative, I don’t want them to have anything to hope for," Shapiro said. "I don’t want them to have anybody who’s helping them. I don’t want them to have anybody who cares for them, who corresponds with them or updates them about anything. I don’t want them to have the ability to have any hope whatsoever.”
Ultimately, the committee barely voted to pass the bill on to the full House. If approved there, Utah would become the 20th state to eliminate the death penalty.