Gov. Herbert says he might sign bill abolishing Utah’s death penalty

Gov. Gary Herbert, a committed supporter of capital punishment, said Wednesday he could support pending legislation to abolish Utah’s death penalty to save money for taxpayers and spare victims’ families years of prolonged grief while appeals grind through the courts.

“I’ve been a strong supporter for the death penalty for those most egregious and heinous of crimes,” the governor told reporters at his monthly KUED news conference Wednesday. “That being said, I think that the court system itself has made it so it’s a little bit harder to defend the death penalty. It takes so long. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

A bill to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison with no chance of parole is working through the state Legislature and has the support of House Speaker Greg Hughes, among others. Herbert said he would take “a very hard look as that passes through the Legislature, and it’s certainly something that I would consider signing.”

He said capital cases that spend years or decades in the courts did not represent timely or just application of the law.

“Not only is it unfair for those who are being prosecuted, but I think it’s really unfair and unjust to the victims – that constant appeal after appeal after appeal,” the governor said.

If the bill passes, Utah would join 19 states and the District of Columbia that have abolished the death penalty.

“I’m to the point of saying for the taxpayer and for justice, it certainly is less expensive I think by all accounts to have life without the possibility of parole as a replacement for the death penalty.”

Herbert added that the potential execution of a wrongly charged and innocent person was “certainly” a factor in his position.

“It’s very rare today as opposed to yesteryear when probably our judicial system was not as thorough,” he said. “It certainly eliminates that point of error.”