Death penalty bills expected to return to the Utah legislature

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Bills that would speed up the death penalty process or repeal it altogether are expected to return to the Utah State Legislature.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, told FOX 13 he has already opened bill files that would cut down on the length of appeals that death row inmates have. Some inmates on death row in Utah have been appealing their sentences for decades.

"If I could get it 10 years or less, I think we're in the ballpark," Rep. Ray said.

But opponents of capital punishment said they were planning for legislation that would enact a repeal. Last year, the Utah State Senate passed a bill that ended the death penalty, but the House would not vote on it.

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, which supports a repeal of the death penalty, said it was anticipating lawmakers would bring that legislation back.

"We will see that again and that's good for the debate," said Jean Hill, the government liaison for the diocese. "Because then we can really talk about what is the ultimate benefit of (the death penalty), and there is none."

There are nine death row inmates in Utah. Three have chosen to die by firing squad. The primary method of execution in Utah is lethal injection, but the Utah Department of Corrections has said right now it does not have the drugs to carry out an execution. That makes firing squad the default method.

Rep. Ray said he believes any bill to repeal the death penalty would not pass in Utah.

"A lot of the support on that last year was the fact that the death penalty was too hard to do and took too long, and I think if we can come out with something that answers that, there's not enough support to get rid of the death penalty," he told FOX 13.

The bills are expected to be debated in the 2017 legislative session.

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