On the EDge: Utah needs new blood, not blood atonement

OPINION – Simply put, there is no humane way to end a human life.

They are all barbaric, even when court-sanctioned, and serve no purpose other than to exact revenge.

There is no evidence that indicates capital punishment acts as a deterrent, that the possibility of being executed by the state curbs the most violent crimes. Instead, it serves only one purpose: to fulfill the eye-for-an-eye mentality that exists within human nature.

The debate regarding the manner in which a state terminates life gained new fuel this last week when the Utah House narrowly passed a bill that would reinstitute the firing squad as an alternative means to execution in one of several bits of proposed legislation that would push the state deeper into a fundamentalist theocracy.

Read more: Firing squad bill passes the Utah House

There is growing opposition among the pharmaceutical industry to supply states with the three-drug cocktail that has been employed for years now to carry out the death penalty, citing that it can be ineffective and, as new studies indicate, inhumane.

So, Utah is now looking at alternative means to dispose of its most hardened criminals.

“We have to have an option,” Republican Rep. Paul Ray said during a news conference last Wednesday. “If we go hanging, if we go to the guillotine, or we go to the firing squad, electric chair, you’re still going to have the same circus atmosphere behind it. So is it really going to matter?”

Well, yes, it does.

The root of arguments that support the death penalty is that human life is precious, that it should be respected, that it should not be extinguished at the hands of another.

Yet, when it comes to dishing out penalties for those who take another’s life, that all goes out the window.

Except, here in Utah, arguably the most theocratic state in the nation, the arguments regarding capital punishment and the methods to carry it out, must be examined under a much broader light.

One of the underpinnings of the early Mormon faith was the belief in blood atonement as the only way to accurately redeem oneself for certain sins.

“There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins, and the smoking incense would atone for their sins,” Brigham Young said in 1856, reaffirming a belief offered down from church founder Joseph Smith.

Of course, at that time, Utah also had a law on the books allowing decapitation of those convicted of murder.

Over the years, the church has softened its position on blood atonement, as it has on polygamy, allowing blacks into the temple and attaining priesthood, and other matters of both social and legal relevance.

The Legislature is also contemplating a bill that would further enhance the state theocracy under the proposed Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act. Among other things, the bill would “establish that perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed and that rights of conscience shall never be infringed, as provided in the Utah Constitution” and would “require government and private individuals that impose a law or action that substantially burdens another’s religious liberty to balance certain requirements in order to lawfully enforce or recognize the law or action.”

Anti-polygamy activists have started a grassroots effort to quash the bill.

Sound Choices Coalition, the leading anti-polygamy group in Utah, issued the following statement: “We are concerned that LaVar Christensen’s current bill on religious freedom in the state of Utah may lead to unintended consequences by protecting extreme and abusive religious practices that are claimed as integral parts of various religious beliefs. We have already seen religion used as an excuse for the FLDS to not testify in a child labor case in Southern Utah. It is not out of the question that if such bills were to pass into law, they might pave the way for arguments in favor of religious law such as Sharia.”

So, Utah’s image in the world continues to take a beating.

Sure, it’s a great place if you want to ski, climb rocks, or explore wondrous national parks, but it’s not such a great place if you are a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, a person of color, or if you like to indulge in a real adult beverage instead of the 3.2 beer you find on the grocery store shelves, or tint your political ideology blue.

Utah cannot afford any more bad press.

While under the leadership of Jon Huntsman Jr., the state made some progress in upping its image. He had a handle on what was good for the people of the state – all people of the state.

Under his leadership, Utah was No. 1 in job growth, leveled an uneven tax system, boosted the lagging education system, bolstered the state’s environmental posture.

His impact as a leader was measurable and while there were political issues where we were ideologically light years apart, he ranked No. 1 on the decency level in my book, meaning he had the welfare of all at the heart of his administration.

His departure led to a backslide in leadership that trickled down to an already hapless Legislature that has been more focused on sustaining its office than feeding a state hungry for social, environmental, and political reform.

When a Legislature spends more time talking about how to kill people instead of preventing them from committing crimes that could result in a death sentence, something is wrong.

It is equally wrong when a Legislature spends more time as an apologist for a fundamental sect that the mainstream finds repulsive.

What the state needs now is new blood, not blood atonement.

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • anybody home February 17, 2015 at 11:32 am

    As usual, I’m on your side of the table, Ed. But I don’t see much coming up in the way of change in this state from which my own roots spring. I have only lived here for one year, but am well-grounded in the heritage. In a theocracy where people spend almost every day and night in one form of religious practice or another, there’s little room for change – or desire for it. Huntsman’s reputation spread beyond Utah and he was respected by many outside the state who began to think Utah might be coming on-board the 21st century. But that didn’t last long, at least not as far as southern Utah is concerned. As a journalist myself, I see that there’s an odd mindset in Utah, a mindset that not only enjoys but courts the view of themselves as outsiders…the attitudes range in a strange way from a sense of persecution (look how we’ve been treated) to a sense of arrogance (we’re the truly chosen people). And as long as this bi-polar cultural attitude prevails – and it will – I see little chance that Utah will become more than it is right this minute. Outsiders may come for the recreation or even some for the mild winters, but they are not going to change Utah. When those who do not subscribe to the culture here learn what it’s like to live in a theocracy, they’ll continue to move on. And they won’t be doing it in handcarts.

    • dudleysharp February 20, 2015 at 3:32 am


      As a rule, all sanctions are based within justice, as is the death penalty


  • NotSoFast February 17, 2015 at 11:38 am

    Ah come on Ed. Really?
    A off color opinion concerning punishment to fit a crime while leading up to your real intent of a endorsement for Sir Huntsman for a possible US Senate race coming up.
    I suppose you think Judge Roy Beam or Wyatt Earp had a more humane way of dishing out punishment. And what do you think about the creator drowning mankind at the time of the flood? Justified or not? Better yet, what does Huntsman Jr. think of it?

    • Borec February 17, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      Notsofast, a little hope is out there! The past three Sundays I have gone to Harmon’s, only to find the place packed with few open parking spots. A good indication of the changing of the old guard!

  • Paul February 17, 2015 at 11:40 am

    “There is no evidence that indicates capital punishment acts as a deterrent, that the possibility of being executed by the state curbs the most violent crimes.”
    Spoken like the true liberal that you are Ed. For those who believe this is true, then think of what the murder rate would be if there were no laws holding someone back from committing a capital crime.
    Why oh why does St George News have Ed as a contributing writer anyway? He sucks.

    • Borec February 17, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      Paul, spoken like the ignorant, self-righteous soul that is so pervasive it this place! Ed is the voice of reason. Hopefully your kids can pull off the blinders and give you a little hope for the kindness you preach on Sundays but don’t practice Mon – Sat!

      • mesaman February 17, 2015 at 5:42 pm

        Borak; Ed is the voice of nonreason. He lives in Baja yet presumes to understand Southern Utah because he used to bloviate on the editorial page on a regular basis, years ago. I fear you have the myopic vision of a personal, selfish agenda.

        • Borec February 18, 2015 at 2:50 pm

          I understand Dixie and I understand Ed. My Great, great grandfather arrived in Dixie with the cannon used to smash the lava into the earth, laying the foundation for your White House. He also was the one who was called to excommunicate the “plurals” who would not conform to change. He had the testicular fortitude needed to lead progress. That same fortitude has been passed down in lineage to embrace progress. Go shack up with the Jeff’s clan if you want to cling to the past. I hear there are spare bedrooms out that way for rent.

    • dudleysharp February 20, 2015 at 3:34 am

      There is a huge record of deterrence evidence, as Ed is apparently unaware.

      I suspect it is based within willful ignorance.

  • ladybugavenger February 17, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Education is good, but you can’t fix stupid. There is evil in the world. These people need to be locked up so what’s the answer, let minor offenders out of jail to make more room? Build more jails? Make marijuana legal?

    • dudleysharp February 20, 2015 at 3:40 am


      People complain and stay because they love where they are, but just wants some changes.
      It is no different than complaining to those we love about something we are concerned about with them. We are trying to improve their lives and our relationship with them, not abandon them.
      However, sometimes the real problem is with the complainer.

  • NotSoFast February 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Anybody Home, Why do you continue to live in Utah? Nobody forcing you to stay. That is unless your currently residing in a Utah Correction facility waiting to get the heck out of Dodge. Till then, please continue typing on the State of Utah supplied computer.
    Next time you have the privileged to talk to Mr. Huntsman Jr., ask him why he supports the laws of the State of Utah. You might be surprise by his answer. I’d like to see him become the Governor again.

    • Real Life February 17, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      And wham!!!!! There he is! Then just move guy. Gotta love it.

      • ladybugavenger February 17, 2015 at 11:26 pm

        🙂 we do love the “just move then” people

    • anybody home February 17, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      Not so fast – Do I understand you to say that anyone who criticizes things in Utah should leave? Now there’s an intelligent point of view. No, sorry, Not so quick, I’m not in a Utah prison. I have my own computer – I’m a writer and writers use computers. I’ve never met Mr. Huntsman Jr. I live in Utah for personal reasons although I’ll be moving on myself (you’ll be happy, right?). I’ve lived all over the country for my work and am familiar with local attitudes, but no place I’ve been is as parochial as Utah. I’d like to stay until I can figure this out. So you can help, Not so quick. Tell me why you think so many people here are so narrow-minded. Your answer counts.

      • dudleysharp February 20, 2015 at 3:37 am

        People complain and stay because they love where they are, but just wants some changes.
        It is no different than complaining to those we love about something we are concerned about with them. We are trying to improve their lives and our relationship with them, not abandon them.

  • Todd February 17, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    I think a bullet. Is the cheapest way ,unless the rope would be used multiple times. This schould not even be such a big deal there victims didn’t have a choice.

  • Ruthann February 18, 2015 at 8:00 am

    I can’t wait to leave this backward place.

    • anybody home February 18, 2015 at 10:11 am

      Want to car pool?

  • dudleysharp February 19, 2015 at 2:58 am

    Nitrogen Gas; Flawless, peaceful, unrestricted method of execution
    Dudley Sharp

    “(Dr. Phillip) Nitschke called (nitrogen gas hypoxia) “flawless” . . . Inhaling the pure nitrogen, patients lose consciousness immediately (in approximately 12 seconds) and die a few minutes later.” “. . . extremely quick . . . no drugs . . . reliable, peaceful, available . . . ” (1).

    No panic nor suffocation effect with nitrogen.

    “Close contact with an enclosed inert gas (as nitrogen) is lethal because it flushes oxygen from the body, but released into the open air, it quickly disperses, and is safe for others.” (2)

    A sealed gas chamber is not required – just an oxygen mask and a secured prisoner.

    1)”Exit International’s euthanasia device”, Euthanasia device, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthanasia_device#Exit_International.27s_euthanasia_device, viewed/copied 3/13/2104.

    2) “Inert gas asphyxiation”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inert_gas_asphyxiation, viewed/copied 3/13/2014


    International Humanitarian Hypoxia Project

    Is There A More Humane Way To Kill?, Lawrence Gist II, 6/22/09

    Creque, S.A. “Killing with kindness – capital punishment by nitrogen asphyxiation” National Review. 1995-9-11.

  • dudleysharp February 19, 2015 at 3:04 am

    Of course the death penalty deters.

    The evidence that the death penalty deters some is overwhelming.

    The evidence that the death penalty deters none does not exist.

    “no evidence you say”? Really?

    28 US studies found for death penalty deterrence since 1999.

    I suspect you didn’t fact check the topic.

    Time to start.

    OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS: A review of the debate
    99.7% of murderers tell us “Give me life, not execution”

    The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

  • dudleysharp February 19, 2015 at 3:13 am


    You seem unaware that we have sanctions based upon that which we treasure.

    A sanction cannot be a sanction unless we treasure that which is taken away.

    We treasure freedom, thus incarceration for wrongdoing.
    We treasure money, thus fines.
    We treasure time and labor, thus community service.
    We treasure life, thus execution.

    We secure all sanctions based upon justice, just a with the death penalty.
    You have no evidence that the US uses the death penalty based upon revenge.
    You simply stated it without thinking.
    Possibly you see all sanctions as revenge?

  • McMurphy February 19, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Having read comments on this subject in various blogs I have concluded Utah is missing an opportunity.
    I suggest that the state should auction off the right to kill person convicted of capital crimes. It appears there are many who would be happy to buy the right to off a bad guy. Not only would the state get the money from the auction but could sell tickets to witness the killing live and in person and also pay-for-view TV.
    The way I see it the winner of the auction could select the killing method. Firing squad and hanging would be best visually. Based on how many people have chosen to view the ISIS beheadings that would be a viable option.
    It could be so cool! Think The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly for costume and theme music. Dirty Harry would be good – “You’re going to make my day punk.” Or, a black mask, naked torso and a big double-edged axe.
    I’m telling you, the state could make a bundle.

    • fun bag February 19, 2015 at 11:56 am

      They could also televise it live on the huntin’ channel. Or TLC could pick up a new reality series…

  • Renee February 19, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    “There is no evidence that indicates capital punishment acts as a deterrent…” There is no evidence because the murderers are gone. If someone is bound and determined to kill, they will find a way. Execute the murderers and they can no longer kill. That sure sounds like a deterrent to me.

    • dudleysharp February 20, 2015 at 3:44 am


      As detailed there is tremendous evidence for deterrence, which has existed since the first history of man, up to 28 US studies finding for deterrence since 1999.
      MY conclusion is Ed has no clue because he doesn’t want to.

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