Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Vacancy: Shooter for a firing squad

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SALT LAKE CITY

As it does now and again, Utah is looking for a few good marksmen.

A search for volunteers began early this month after a state judge signed death warrants for two convicted murderers who have requested death by firing squad. Utah is one of only three states, along with Idaho and Oklahoma, where execution by a team of riflemen is available as an alternative to lethal injection.

Of those three, only Utah has made good on the option, and only Utah allows the condemned to make the decision. Oklahoma law allows use of a firing squad if lethal injection and electrocution are ever ruled unconstitutional, and Idaho can use a firing squad when lethal injection is found to be "impractical," a circumstance that has yet to present itself.

Seeking sharpshooters, the Utah Corrections Department has appealed to law enforcement agencies near the state prison in the town of Draper, just south of here, and in areas where the two men committed their crimes. "We've asked them to submit names of responsible people," said Jack Ford, a spokesman for the department. "It's standard practice."

Two of the six prisoners executed in Utah since the US Supreme Court allowed reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976 have chosen to die in a hail of bullets from a team of state-sanctioned riflemen. The first was Gary Mark Gilmore, a career criminal turned murderer who in 1977 became the first person in the nation put to death after the Supreme Court decision. The second was John Albert Taylor, who was executed in 1996 after raping and murdering a young girl.

Now the state, one of 38 that allow capital punishment, has received the same request from Troy Michael Kell, an avowed white supremacist who stabbed a black prison inmate to death in 1994, and Roberto Arguelles, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting and killing three teenage girls and a 42-year-old woman in 1992.

Kell, whose execution date was set for June 27, would have been next, but he has undertaken appeals that are almost certain to delay his appearance before the firing squad for years. So it now appears that Arguelles will precede him to execution, on June 28. Arguelles had until Wednesday to seek further review by a state trial court, but did not do so.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said death-row inmates sought alternative means of execution for a variety of reasons -- one of them to demonstrate what they deem the barbaric nature of capital punishment, especially in states like Utah that only rarely carry out the death penalty.

"They want to be on display," Dieter said. "They want to show the state to be brutal and bloodthirsty, and raise questions about whether we're really comfortable with the death penalty. In a state like Texas, where so many executions occur, no one pays much attention. But in a state like Utah, this is front-page news, and it gets a lot of attention even though the end result is the same."

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