Magazine article Newsweek

Ready, Aim ... Fire; Utah Schedules an Execution by Firing Squad

Magazine article Newsweek

Ready, Aim ... Fire; Utah Schedules an Execution by Firing Squad

Article excerpt

AFTER GARY GILMORE WAS EXECUTED by a Utah firing squad in 1977, prison custodians refused to clean up the mess. The task ultimately fell to Department of Corrections officials themselves. This week, as child-killer John Albert Taylor prepares to meet the riflemen, the state wants a tidier result. A metal pan, three feet square, will be put underneath the chair where Taylor Sits. The intention is to contain "blood-borne pathogens," says a corrections spokesman. The 36-year-old Taylor has tested negative for HIV, but officials want to leave nothing to chance.

Taylor had a choice between firing squad and lethal injection. He reportedly chose the bullets because he "didn't want to lay on the table and flip around like a fish out of water." This way he can go out like, well . . . an elk. Utah politicians are none too pleased, as hordes of journalists descend on the Uinta Prison Complex in Draper for the scheduled Jan. 26 execution. Firing squads are a remnant of the l9th-century Mormon belief in "blood atonement." Officials prefer a more modern image for the state, and one legislator has already proposed a bill to bar any future firing squads.

Firing-squad executions are a complicated business. Some of the details:

Number of shooters: Five (plus an alternate); one will get a blank, so no one will be sure his shot was fatal.

Who they are: All volunteers, all peace officers, all anonymous.

Weaponry: .30-.30 rifles (used by many prison tower guards), with regular .30-caliber hunting ammunition. …

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