FILE – The execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution is shown as security institution director Randy Blades looks on in Boise, Idaho October 20, 2011. A bill that would allow Idaho to kill convicted inmates by firing squad he is directed to the ex-officio governor after passing the Legislature with a veto-proof majority. Firing squads will only be used if the state cannot obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections. Jessie L. Bonner/AP
BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Idaho is ready to allow firing squads to execute convicted inmates when the state cannot obtain lethal injection drugs, under a bill approved Monday with a veto-proof majority .
Firing squads will only be used if the state cannot obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections and its scheduled execution for a death row inmate has already been postponed several times due to drug shortages.
Idaho previously had a firing squad option on the books but never used it. The option was removed from state law in 2009 after the US Supreme Court upheld a method of lethal injection that was commonly used at the time.
Only Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina currently have laws that allow for shooting if other methods of execution aren’t available, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A judge has suspended the South Carolina law until a lawsuit challenging the method is resolved.
Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has expressed his support for the death penalty but generally does not comment on legislation before signing or vetoing it.
Sen. Doug Ricks, a Republican who co-sponsored the bill, told his fellow senators on Monday that the state’s difficulty in finding lethal injection drugs could continue “indefinitely” and that he believes shooting death is “human”.
“This is a rule of law issue – our criminal system should work and penalties should be enforced,” Ricks said.
But Sen. Dan Foreman, also a Republican, said executions by firing squad would traumatize the people who carry them out, the people who witness them, and the people who clean up afterward.
“I’ve seen the aftermath of the shootings, and it’s psychologically damaging to anyone who witnesses it,” Foreman said. “The use of the firing squad is, in my opinion, below the dignity of the state of Idaho.”
The bill originated from Republican Rep. Bruce Skaug, prompted in part by the state’s failure to execute Gerald Pizzuto Jr. late last year. Pizzuto, who now has terminal cancer and other debilitating illnesses, spent more than three decades on death row for his role in the 1985 killings of two gold prospectors.
The Idaho Department of Corrections estimates that it will cost approximately $750,000 to build or retrofit a death chamber for firing squad executions.
Last year, Idaho Department of Corrections Director Jeff Tewalt told lawmakers that there likely would be as many legal challenges to planned firing squad executions as there are to lethal injections. At the time, he said he would be reluctant to ask his associates to participate in a firing squad.
“I don’t feel, as director of the Idaho Department of Corrections, an obligation to ask my staff to do this,” Tewalt said.
Both Tewalt and his former colleague Kevin Kempf played key roles in obtaining the drugs used in the 2012 execution of Richard Albert Leavitt, flying to Tacoma, Washington with more than $15,000 in cash to purchase them from a pharmacist. The trip was carefully kept secret by the department, but revealed in court documents after University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover subpoenaed for the information under a public records act.
Kempf was promoted to lead the Idaho Department of Correction two years later, but is now the executive director of the Correctional Leaders Association. He said the execution process is always challenging for all involved, including the victims’ families. These challenges could be magnified in firing squad executions, he said.
“I have to say at the same time my thoughts are with staff members who may have to do something, by law, that appears to be putting someone to death,” Kempf told the AP during a phone interview earlier this month. “It’s nothing that I assume any prison warden would take lightly, asking someone to order someone to do it.”
Associated Press reporter Michael Tarm of Chicago contributed to this report.