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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A push to repeal the death penalty in Utah has been narrowly defeated, but a…

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A push to repeal the death penalty in Utah was narrowly defeated, but an emotional hearing this week laid bare the divisions among conservatives that have taken shape in state homes led by Republicans.

In Utah, which became the first state to execute someone after the US Supreme Court lifted its moratorium in 1976, lawmakers on Monday night rejected a Republican-sponsored measure that would have kept the corridor of state’s death, but barred prosecutors from pursuing capital punishment in the future. .

The proposal missed a vote to clear a House committee focused on criminal justice, with five votes in favor and six against.

The discussion touched on familiar, decades-old arguments about the nature of justice, wrongful convictions and costs. But this time, opponents argued that the death penalty could also add pain and suffering to victims’ families. They said the lengthy appeal process prolongs the harm inflicted on the relatives of the victims. By making the impact on victims a central point of the repeal campaign, they have blurred what has traditionally been one of the main arguments of proponents: that the death penalty bring justice to the victims of heinous crimes and their families.

While a number of these families support capital punishment, Sharon Wright Weeks is among those who have come to believe that the death penalty has made it harder to shut down. His sister and 15-month-old niece were killed in a crime chronicled in the book ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’. She was initially in favor of a death sentence for one of the men responsible, but nearly four decades of appeals, retrials and jurisdictional hearings changed her mind.

“It’s endless. It’s like carrying this huge weight that gets heavier and heavier and heavier,” she told The Associated Press.

Brenda Lafferty, Weeks’ sister, was murdered in 1984 along with her daughter Erica, by two of her brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty. Dan got life in prison. Ron was sentenced to death, but before being executed he died in prison of natural causes.

Weeks’ story convinced Utah Republican Representative Lowry Snow to sponsor the repeal proposal.

Recent repeals of the death penalty have been passed only in Democratic-controlled states. But Snow defined his push as part of a growing movement of Republican lawmakers in red states who, like him, are taking leading roles in the push to abolish the practice.

Of the 24 states with active death penalty laws, repeal measures were introduced in at least five Republican-majority legislatures last year: Wyoming, Ohio, Kansas, Georgia and Kentucky. A repeal has yet to pass in any Republican-led state, but in Ohio last year Republicans passed a law prohibiting the execution of people with serious mental illness at the time of their crime.

A bill to repeal the death penalty also advanced in Utah in 2016, a year after the state revived the firing squad as a fallback method for executions if deadly drugs aren’t used. not available.

For many, the conservative case against the death penalty bears similarities to arguments against abortion. “He’s making a case for the totality of life,” said Demetrius Minor of the group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Republicans like Snow have also pointed to wrongful convictions for suggesting giving the state the power to take life in conflict with their petty principles of government. They argued the high price of the death penalty made it fiscally irresponsible in some states, including Utah, where a 2018 state report found the state had spent $40 million prosecuting dozens. death penalty cases, only two of which resulted in a death sentence.

“We have next to nothing to show for it,” Snow said. “How would it be better to redirect that to helping victims and the families of victims?”

Weeks, a self-proclaimed political moderate, does not object to the concept of ending a killer’s life. But while life-sentenced brother Dan Lafferty has largely faded into the background of her life, the death sentence has forced her to spend the majority of her adult life in a painful process with no way out.

“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this again,” she said.

Family members of other victims said on Monday that the heinous killings that took their loved ones away from them deserved punishment. Lawmakers heard from relatives of woman who was stabbed multiple times before being shot in the head; murder victims whose bodies were thrown into a mine shaft; and several women who had their throats cut.

Andrew Peterson, Utah attorney general‘s capital cases coordinator, said the death penalty allows prosecutors to fulfill “society’s commitment to victims to seek proportionate justice to honor life.” and the dignity of a victim”.

Removing the death penalty from the table, victims’ relatives have said, would deprive prosecutors of an essential plea-bargaining tool they use to secure life without parole in aggravated murder cases.

Family members of Lizzy Shelley, a child who was raped and murdered in 2019, say the threat of the death penalty led Alexander William Whipple, the girl’s uncle, to tell law enforcement order that the body could be found, sparing the family the agony of not knowing its fate.

“There are, in my opinion, certain people who have committed such heinous crimes that I believe the only way to repay the crime is with their own lives,” said Norman Black, Shelley’s grandfather.

Rep. Jefferson Burton said it made more sense to first seek to resolve the death penalty’s problems, including cost, wrongful convictions and lengthy appeals, rather than to repeal it and rid the government of a tool that prosecutors and many others say makes society safer. and fairer.

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Mary Cashion

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