SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – Family members of murder victims were at Utah Capitol Tuesday to urge lawmakers to not repeal the death penalty. Although supporters say the death penalty has become too costly, and DNA has exonerated too many people in other states.
H.B. 379, which ends death penalty for future cases, is currently in the House. Lawmakers don’t know how a vote will go, but say either way it will be close.
Kari Hatch’s mother and aunt were killed in 1990. She was joined by several other victims as the lobbied lawmakers to vote against the bill. Much of their reasoning had to do with having a penalty for the worst crimes.
“As a society there has to be something that we say that is so terrible and so awful that there has to be proportional response,” said Hatch.
Those in favor of repealing the death penalty note the high costs associated with all the appeals that come with a capitol murder case. Hatch believes the same will happen with life without parole cases.
“Life without the possibility of parole is not going to save anybody anything,” said Hatch. “Because at that point they’ve got nothing to do except sit and think of their next appeal.”
Loydene Burg likes the death penalty because the person who killed her husband ended up pleading guilty to life in prison without possibility of parole. Which included no appeals. Her worry is that without capitol punishment the plea bargain would include parole.
“That would have extended the hurt and the trauma to us in court,” said Burg. “Because there is no way we would have wanted to settle for yes he can just be out of prison in a few years.”
Lawmakers like Rep. Brian King (D-Salt Lake City) believe repealing the death penalty has several benefits. He notes capitol punishment hasn’t shown to be a deterrent to crime, and that the U.S. is one of few industrialized countries that still do it. He worries about the high number of death row inmates who have been exonerated in recent years.
“Over 100 people who were sitting on death row, facing the death penalty have been exonerated using DNA evidence,” said Rep. King. “That’s enough for me that we just can’t apply the death penalty in a fair way.”
He also notes that poorer criminals or people of color are more likely to receive the death penalty. Other lawmakers worry the standard for using the death penalty is different depending on the county prosecutor.
Rep. Paul Ray (R-Clinton) said that none of the current death row inmates in Utah are in those situations.
“No one has appealed on innocence they’ve all appealed based on technicalities, and they’ve all admitted their guilt,” said Rep. Ray. “Utah has the highest bar in the nation when it comes to putting people to death.”