This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
I spent today knowing I would be shot to death before the end of it. After a night without sleep – what's the point of sleeping when you face eternal rest in a few hours? – I tried to make the most of my last day on Earth, but there's not much you can do in a 6-by-12-foot cell.
Before the end of the day, I will sit, my face covered, in front of five men with rifles. I will be strapped to my chair, waiting for the final blow. Would it be better if I could see the shots fired, rather than waiting in darkness for the report of the rifles? Will I even hear the report, or will I be dead before the sound reaches my ears through the hood over my head? Will it hurt? The doctors say no, but how many times have they been shot? The last person executed by rifles moved even after being shot; did he feel the pain? I am terrified at the thought of sitting blind, without the ability to see what is happening around me, just listening for any sound that tells me my life is ending.
What will be accomplished through my death? A bed will be freed up on death row. A cleaning crew will have employment for the time it may take to remove from the room my carcass and all signs of the shooting, five policemen will be left to deal with the reality that one of them killed an unarmed, immobilized human being.
I do not claim to be a good person. I am here waiting for this death because of a crime I committed decades ago. But I am not sure what lesson I am supposed to learn from my own death, or what benefit my death will be to society. It will not bring back my victim. It will not make the state any safer than having me locked in a prison cell day in and day out. It will not prevent others from committing crimes as horrible as my own. Actually, it is a moment when my government will commit the same crime against me that I committed against another so many years ago. Is that it? Is the sole purpose for my death retribution? The state will have its revenge, but at what price? How can the state punish others for an action it condones when it suits its purpose?
Granted, I am not a death row inmate and this is a fictional account, but after years of rational arguments against the death penalty – such as it is economically irresponsible and does nothing to deter crime – have all failed, perhaps an emotional plea will have some impact.
Now is the right time to have this discussion. Now, when the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) is engaged in a comprehensive study of the efficacy of our criminal justice system, and State Rep. Paul Ray plans to introduce legislation to bring the firing squad back to Utah's death row.
Rep. Ray says his proposal is in response to the botched execution in Oklahoma that left an inmate writhing in pain until his eventual death from a heart attack. Rep. Ray claims a firing squad is a more humane method of executing a human being. By definition, execution is not humane. Humane means having compassion and mercy. Strapping a person whose freedom has already been taken away to a gurney or chair and killing him is not merciful.
In a court of law, states typically win their cases when they can show a legitimate interest behind their actions, but revenge is not a legitimate governmental interest. Utah does not need a firing squad; it needs to repeal the death penalty.
Jean Hill is government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.