Utah's Fourth Judicial District Court [official website] Wednesday granted a death row inmate's request to be put to death by firing squad. Michael Archuleta, 49, was convicted in 1989 of first-degree murder for the beating death of a college student, and is now set to be executed by firing squad [order, PDF] on April 5. Judge Donald Eyre Jr. [official profile] issued the execution warrant under a Utah statute [text] that sets "lethal intravenous injection" as the official method of execution, unless "a court holds that a defendant has a right to be executed by a firing squad, [in which case] the method of execution for that defendant shall be a firing squad." The exemption applies to death row inmates like Archuleta who had already requested a firing squad when they were abolished by statute in 2004. The decision to honor Archuleta's request was likely made to avoid further execution delays that could result from an ongoing shortage of lethal injection drugs, created last year when the main US manufacturer ceased production of a key anesthetic used in the three-drug "cocktail" that makes up a lethal injection. If the execution is carried out, Archuleta will be the fourth prisoner to be put to death by firing squad since the US Supreme Court [official website] reinstated capital punishment [JURIST news archive] in 1976. Each of the other three firing squad executions also took place in Utah.
The last person to be executed by firing squad was Ronnie Lee Gardner [BBC backgrounder], who was put to death [JURIST report] in June 2010 after the US Supreme Court failed to stay his execution. Utah's allowance of execution by firing squad has added to general criticism of the death penalty, which is used in 34 states. Earlier this month Crystal Whalen, a student attorney at the Regional Public Defender's Office for Capital Cases in Lubbock, Texas, wrote in favor of moving away from the death penalty, arguing that death as punishment is unconstitutional [JURIST commentary] under the Eighth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]. In March 2011, Illinois voted to abolish the death penalty entirely [JURIST report]. Two years before that, New Mexico repealed [JURIST report] the use of the death penalty in the state, replacing it with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. New Mexico was the third state to abolish the death penalty since 1976, joining New Jersey and New York [JURIST reports], each of which abolished the death penalty in 2007.