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Could a Firing Squad Be in Kohberger’s Future?
By Bill Hoagland
Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the past five months, you know who Bryan Kohberger is; and for those who have been living on another planet, he is the criminology student accused of brutally murdering four college students at the University of Idaho with a knife. He is now in an Idaho jail awaiting trial, which will not occur until after July 1. In the meantime, the Idaho legislature is in the process of passing new legislation that allows for execution by a firing squad. If passed in its current form, this law will take effect on July 1. This proposed law does not specify the details as to how an execution by firing squad is to be carried out; instead, the details are left to the discretion of the Director of the Idaho Department of Corrections.
Currently, there are only four states that allow for execution by firing squad and for guidance, Idaho will probably follow the format outlined in the Utah statute. Utah previously banned executions by firing squads in 2004 (long after they executed the infamous Gary Gilmore by firing squad) but they reinstated the procedure in 2015. The Utah statute has some interesting provisions so let’s take a brief look. Under the Utah statute, there are five shooters in the firing squad, with one shooter actually firing a blank; none of the shooters know if they are firing the blank. The person being executed is hooded, strapped down in a chair and his heart is clearly targeted with a red circle. That sounds gruesome enough but the most unusual provision in the Utah statute is that the shooters are all police officers who volunteer for the assignment, with preference given to those living in the county where the crime was committed. Nothing vengeful about this, right?
States other than Idaho are also now considering allowing alternative forms of execution, including not only the firing squad, but also resumption of the electric chair, suffocation by gas, and death by hanging (yes, death by hanging is still an approved method of execution in two states). There are several reasons why states are considering alternative forms of execution in lieu of lethal injection. First, there is a shortage of chemicals traditionally used for lethal injections. This shortage has resulted because companies who manufacture these specific chemicals, including Pfizer, have decided, as a corporate policy, to stop making drugs used in executions. Second, there have been several “botched” executions recently involving the use of lethal injections and the results were horrific; one inmate, for example, lived for 45 minutes after being injected. As you can see, there is a reasonable possibility that at some point, the US Supreme Court will rule that execution by lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.
For those of you hoping Kohberger is executed by a firing squad, several things have to fall in place before that can happen. First, the proposed Idaho law has to be passed by the Idaho legislature and signed by the Governor (and yes, there is legislative opposition to it). More importantly, when the Kohberger case comes up for trial, the prosecutor must seek the death penalty, Kohberger has to be convicted of first degree murder, and if he is tried by a jury, the death sentence by the jury must be unanimous. Then, under the Idaho law as currently drafted, a firing squad can only be used if death by lethal injection is unavailable due to a lack of chemicals or because an appropriate court has ruled that death by lethal injection is unconstitutional. So while the prospect of Kohberger dying by a firing squad may appeal to some, it appears to be unlikely at this point.
As gristly as a firing squad may seem, there are criminologists who have witnessed various executions and who believe that the firing squad is the most humane of the methods being used today because death occurs within three to five seconds, unlike other forms of execution.
Because Kohberger is a student of criminology, don’t you wonder what he thinks now about the pros and cons of firing squads?
■ Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.