‘Time to change’: Utah Co. attorney will no longer seek death penalty

Local News

PROVO, Utah (ABC4) – One Utah attorney says he will no longer seek the death penalty.

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, who became the first in the county to seek the death penalty since 1984, says “pretending that the death penalty will somehow curb crime is simply a lie.”

In his Wednesday statement, Leavitt highlights two cases – that of Gary Gillmore in 1976 and the 1984 case of Ron and Dan Lafferty.

In Gilmore’s case, Leavitt explains the jury trial lasted two days and the man was convicted of murdering Max Jensen and Bernie Bushnell. Gilmore was given the death penalty and was executed by firing squad three months later.

Eight years later, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered Brenda and Erica Lafferty in Utah County. A jury trial of nine days convicted both men. Ron was given the death penalty while Dan received life without the possibility of parole. Leavitt says Ron was never executed – the appeals process was still pending when he died of natural causes 35 years later. Dan is still in the Utah State Prison.

Shortly after he took office, Leavitt says he had to decide whether to seek death in a homicide case his office was prosecuting. He says he spent months weighing the decision, explaining he weighed the costs to the taxpayer resources by seeking the death penalty in addition to the costs of a decades-long appeals process if the defendant was found guilty.

“In my decision to seek the death penalty, I became the first Utah County Attorney since 1984 to do so,” Leavitt says. “That decision has required an enormous expenditure of resources both in time and taxpayer dollars.”

He continues, saying, “Pretending that the death penalty will somehow curb crime is simply a lie. The answer to preventing these types of horrible crimes is in education and prevention before they occur. No family wants to hear, ‘My child is dead and that man got a long sentence.’ What they want to hear is, ‘My child was never killed.’”

Leavitt says he has witnessed and experienced since deciding to seek the death penalty “is that regardless of the crime, seeking the death penalty does NOT promote our safety.”

“Seeking the death penalty seemed the right decision at the time. Upon further reflection, I am convinced that its costs far outweigh its benefits to the community as a whole. My responsibility is to all victims. The resources that I’ve committed to seeking the death penalty have limited this office’s ability to assist and care for victims of other crimes.”

Leavitt adds he believes the death penalty will never be carried out again in Utah, and “nor should it.”

“It’s time to change course. There’s a better route, and we’re going to seek it. There is no shame in admitting the need to change once we become aware of it. The only shame is if we choose to shrink from the challenge to move forward,” Leavitt says. “Today, I announce that as the Utah County Attorney, I will no longer seek the death penalty.”

According to Leavitt, his office will continue to aggressively prosecute homicide cases and all crimes of violence, saying this is “the better route.”

“It is the more responsible route. It will make us safer as a community in every respect. What we have also learned is that the death penalty does not promote community safety. It is not an effective deterrent. It simply demonstrates our societal preference for retribution over public safety.”

Twenty-four states, including Utah, have the death penalty and 23 have abolished it.

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