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Idaho murder suspect could be executed by firing squad under new law

By Sarah May
|
March 22, 2023

In the wake of the Idaho state legislature's vote to bring back firing squads as an available method of carrying out prisoner executions, accused killer Bryan Kohberger could end up facing the controversial punishment, depending on how his high-profile murder case proceeds, as Fox News reports.

The Idaho state Senate and House of Representatives both passed the measure by significant margins, and the bill now goes to the desk of Republican Gov. Brad Little for his signature.

Drug shortage prompts action

Idaho's change in allowable methods of execution is the result of a nationwide shortage of drugs used to carry out lethal injections of inmates sentenced to death, as the Associated Press notes.

According to the bill just passed by a veto-proof majority of the state legislature, firing squads will only be an option if and when such drugs cannot be obtained, a scenario that has already caused multiple postponements of a prisoner on death row.

The need for alternative modes of execution has also promoted action in other states where corrections officials have had difficulties securing the drugs traditionally used to execute inmates, with Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and South Carolina having also included firing squads as a potential – though vanishingly rare – mode of carrying out the death penalty.

A key reason for the challenges states have had in procuring execution drugs is that a number of pharmaceutical manufacturers have refused to permit their products to be used for purposes of capital punishment, contending that their preparations are designed to save, not take, human lives.

Supporters laud outcome

State Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) praised the legislative outcome Tuesday, telling Fox News Digital, “H186 has now passed the Idaho Senate and House with a veto-proof majority. Upon signature of the governor, the state may now more likely carry out justice, as determined by our judicial system, against those who have committed first degree murder.”

“This is an important bill for victims, their families, and the rule of law,” Skaug declared.

Republican State Sen. Doug Ricks concurred with that take, arguing prior to final passage of the bill that the lethal injection drug shortage could go on “indefinitely” and suggesting that death by firing squad can be “humane,” according to the AP.

“This is a rule of law issue – our criminal system should work and penalties should be exacted,” added Ricks.

Critics speak out

Not everyone shared the aforementioned views, however, with Republican State Sen. Dan Foreman asserting that execution by firing squad had the potential to cause significant trauma to those assigned to carry out the punishment, witness the event, and clean up the aftermath, as Fox News noted.

Idaho defense lawyer Edwina Elcox also stood in staunch opposition to the measure, stating, “Execution by way of firing squad is antiquated and bottom line, inhumane.”

“It is deeply concerning that Idaho is reverting to such barbaric methods,” Elcox added.

Though some have suggested that death by firing squad is faster and less painful than other methods of execution such as the use of pentobarbital, experts cited in a federal case on the issue argued that an inmate shot in this way could remain conscious for a period of roughly ten seconds and would likely suffer severe pain “especially related to shattering of bone and damage to the spinal cord,” the AP further noted.

Kohberger legal team grows

Kohberger – charged in the November, 2022 murders of University of Idaho students Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, and Xana Kernodle – has yet to enter a plea in his case, and prosecutors have not formally announced whether they intend to seek the death penalty against the 28-year-old defendant.

However, just this week, as Newsweek reports, Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall granted Kohberger defense attorney Anne Taylor's request for the appointment of co-counsel qualified to handle death penalty cases, in a potential sign of what is to come.

Former federal prosecutor Michael McAuliffe told the outlet that the addition of such a lawyer is “a clear sign that the defense considers it a high probability that the state will ultimately seek death. The court evidently agrees.”

Another former federal prosecutor, Neama Rahmani, agreed with that assessment, saying that prosecutors in Idaho “will almost certainly seek the death penalty for Kohberger. There are multiple aggravating factors, including the four victims and the heinous and cruel nature of the stabbings. If you believe in the death penalty, this is a death penalty case,” and given the state legislature's decision this week, such punishment could be carried out in a way rarely witnessed in this country.