Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says he might sign a bill to repeal the death penalty if it passes the legislature-a huge pivot for Herbert, who previously supported capital punishment.
Herbert said Wednesday during his monthly news conference on KUED that it’s getting harder to defend the death penalty.
“I’m to the point of saying for the taxpayer and for justice, it certainly is less expensive, I think by all accounts to have life without possibility of parole as a replacement for the death penalty,” Herbert said. “And so I’m going to take a very hard look if that passes through the legislature and it’s certainly something I would consider signing.”
H.B. 379, sponsored by Republican Representative Gage Froerer cleared its first hurdle Wednesday morning. It passed a House committee on a 7-4 vote. Victims’ families on both sides of the debate testified in committee. Christine Stenquist said her family was satisfied that her sister’s murderer got a life sentence.
“We were spared decades long of waiting for an execution that haunts families in capital cases,” Stenquist said.
But Dave Noriega testified against the bill. In 1990, two parolees broke into his family’s remote Utah cabin three days before Christmas and murdered his grandmother and aunt. One of those men, Von Lester Taylor is on death row. Speaking to lawmakers, he slammed arguments that ongoing appeals further victimize families.
“Do you have any idea how deplorable it is to listen to you tell our families what kind of justice we deserve?” Noriega said. “This isn’t about revenge. This isn’t about deterrence. This is about justice. And you’ll be depriving our family from it.”
The bill would not affect existing death row inmates. It would outlaw death sentences for future capital cases.
Herbert said Wednesday that he believes justice delayed is justice denied.
“And when you find people that are tried on capital punishment … people on death row over 20 years, that’s not timely and that’s probably not just,” he says.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Greg Hughes endorsed Froerers bill. He said he’ll be working over the next few weeks to convince his colleagues to support it.
The last time lawmakers considered abolishing the death penalty was in 2016. It passed the Senate. But didn’t even get a hearing on the House floor.