The ACLU recognizes that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties and violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. There is also a growing public concern that the nation’s death penalty system lacks fairness and reliability, a concern fueled by the increasing number of exonerations of those who were on death row across the country. Many of these exonerations were made possible by the relatively recent advances in DNA and other scientific testing.
Recognizing that capital punishment is not only costly but has also failed to deter crime, more than a dozen states have abolished the death penalty over the last several years. Increasingly, families of murder victims, the faith community, law enforcement officials, attorneys, and sensible individuals of all political stripes are coming together to oppose this system. For over a year, activists and organizers have been meeting regularly to discuss how to best address death penalty issues in Utah and decided to form an official coalition.
The group, Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (UTADP), of which the ACLU of Utah is a founding member, is a statewide coalition of secular and religious organizations, as well as concerned individuals dedicated to stopping executions in our state. This work has a growing sense of urgency with the planned state execution, by firing squad, of Ronnie Lee Gardner at 12:01 A.M. on June 18th. Gardener would be the first execution since 1999, when Joseph Mitchell Parsons was put to death by lethal injection.
UTADP began a public campaign with a press conference on April 23, the same day that a date was set for Gardner’s execution. UTADP has two events planned on Thursday, June 17, in response to the scheduled execution; an Interfaith Prayer Vigil, which will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at The Cathedral Church of St. Mark and a Public Rally with speakers and music at the south steps of the Utah State Capitol Building from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. (See the flyer on the front page for more details)
The tide is turning on the death penalty. Not only are cries for alternatives growing louder across the nation but internationally as well. The U.S. is only surpassed by Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the number of people executed in 2009. Many countries and international NGO’s are advocating for an end to the death penalty and recently retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens expressed the opinion that he felt the death penalty to be unconstitutional. UTADP is calling for a moratorium on executions in Utah while a study is conducted to investigate alternatives like life in prison without parole.