‘Just Mercy’ author urges Utah Legislature to abolish death penalty
Utah is ready to abolish the death penalty, author and activist Bryan Stevenson told lawmakers this week.
“Utah is a state where no one has been sentenced to death for a crime that’s taken place anytime in the last 20 years,” he said Wednesday, yet the state has still spent millions of dollars on litigation and appeals for those sentenced to death previously.
Stevenson — who published the best-selling memoir “Just Mercy” in 2014 and founded the Equal Justice Initiative to eliminate excessive and unfair sentencing — visited Capitol Hill to discuss capital punishment in Utah.
Utah’s death penalty statute has been targeted previously by lawmakers, but efforts to abolish it have failed in the House of Representatives in 2016 and 2018. This year, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, is sponsoring HB147, to prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty and adds a possible sentence for aggravated murder of 45 years to life.
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who said he has changed his mind on the issue.
Prior to a closed-door meeting with Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Brad Wilson, Stevenson spoke publicly alongside Snow and McCay to address their legislation.
“I actually think that the death penalty is an obstacle to creating public safety,” Stevenson said. “(Utah) can really start thinking about the ways we can use those millions of dollars to provide more care and services to victims, to enhance law enforcement efforts around promoting public safety and to just generally create a culture that affirms the importance of life, diversity and justice.”
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