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Idaho lawmakers reinstate firing squad as form of execution

Idaho state capital building

Charles Knowles | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 03/30/23

While the move was prompted by an inability to procure the drugs needed for lethal injections, the antiquated form of capital punishment has drawn concern.

Last week, the Idaho House of Representatives voted to reinstate a firing squad as an alternative to lethal injection. While the impetus for the addition to the state’s means of execution was introduced due to problems obtaining the drugs needed for lethal injection, arguments have arisen to challenge lawmakers’ description of a firing squad execution as “humane.”

Means of execution

According to the Idaho Capital Sun, House Bill 186 was introduced as an alternative means of execution, because the state is unable to acquire a source of pentobarbital, the drug used in lethal injection executions. This inability to procure the drug led to the delay of the execution of an inmate, Gerald Pizzuto, who was scheduled to die on December 15, 2022. Pizzuto had been on death row since he was convicted of murder in 1985. 

The state has since obtained a new death warrant for the condemned prisoner, but with no source of pentobarbital, the state needed to install a new means of execution before the new date, March 23. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa argued that the state needed a way to carry out penalty sentences without relying on the drug, which is unregulated by the FDA and cannot be prescribed: 

“The firing squad, in my opinion, is humane in part because it is certain,” Skaug said while debating in favor of the bill Friday. “There is no case saying it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.”

He continued to suggest that a firing squad is more “humane” than lethal injection, which is “botched 6 percent to 8 percent of the time.”

Challenge

Skaug’s statement was challenged by Rehumanize International, a non-profit human rights organization with a mission to ensure the protection, respect, and value of every human life. Rehumanize International noted that execution by firing squad subjects the condemned to at least “10 seconds of extreme pain.” 

Rehumanize International explained that the firing squad is not without its complications either. While there may be a smaller margin of botched firing squad executions compared to lethal injection, the problems that can occur tend to be more catastrophic. The organization cited the 1951 execution of Eliseo Mares, who died for “several agonizing minutes” when the firing squad missed his heart and struck him in the abdomen and hip. 

Furthermore, the human rights organization challenged Skaug’s claim that the firing squad does not breach the Eighth Amendment. In September 2022, South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled that firing squads did indeed breach the Eighth Amendment as “cruel and unusual punishment,” which sets legal precedent that can be drawn on if and when House Bill 186 is challenged. 

The state of Idaho itself repealed the method of execution in 2009, similarly citing constitutional concerns. Although it was a legal form of execution from 1982 to 2009, not one execution in the state has ever been carried out by firing squad. Idaho currently has eight prisoners on Death Row, but the only execution that has ever been carried out in the state was performed by hanging, in 1957. 

Pope Francis

Since his elevation to the papacy, Pope Francis has followed his predecessors in consistently decrying the use of capital punishment. In his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” he reiterated the Church’s stance that the death penalty is “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and called Christians to work against it.

In January 2022, this was his monthly prayer intention, which is entrusted to Catholics around the world.

Francis invited the faithful to pray “that the death penalty, which attacks the dignity of the human person, may be legally abolished in every country.”

On August 2, 2018, the Vatican announced it had changed the wording in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the issue, calling the death penalty “an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and deeming it “inadmissible” in all cases. 

The new version of Catechism No. 2267 also calls Catholics to “work with determination” to abolish capital punishment where ever it is still practiced.

Tags:
Death PenaltyLawUnited States
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