BY DAN FEIN
SALT LAKE City - "Hey hey, ho, ho, the death penalty has to go!" chanted 50 demonstrators who rallied in blizzard conditions at the Federal Building in Salt Lake City January 24 to protest the death penalty and the scheduled execution of John Albert Taylor. Two days later a firing squad carried out the death order.
The last time a prisoner died by firing squad in the U.S. was in 1977 when the state of Utah killed Gary Gilmore after a 10-year hiatus in executions.
Taylor, 36, had maintained his innocence. He was convicted of the 1989 rape and murder of 11-year-old Charla King. Taylor told his lawyers he preferred death to life under the prison conditions, where he was locked up 23 hours a day and had very few rights. He had dropped all appeals.
Media attention to this execution was heightened because of the method used. TV cameras from around the world descended on Utah to film the execution chamber at the Uintah Prison Complex in Draper, Utah, where Taylor died. They also covered the demonstration against the death penalty.
Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, spoke at the rally and labeled the death penalty "brutal" and "cruel and unusual punishment regardless of the method used."
The state legislature is considering a law to prevent condemned prisoners from choosing the firing squad. Most states use lethal injections. Gov. Mike Leavitt and the main daily here, the Salt Lake Tribune, favor changing the law, arguing that the firing squad blemishes Utah's image. Salt Lake City will host the 2002 Winter Olympics.
A "Death Penalty Fact Sheet" prepared by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund counts the number of death row inmates in the U.S. as 3,046 as of last fall, 40.5 percent of them Black.
Joe Baker, the western region executive director of Amnesty International (AI) USA, addressed the crowd. Baker called the death penalty "a human rights abuse," and added, "Even though the present polls show a majority in favor, this can change with educational work."
Ron Yengich, a well-known prisoner's rights lawyer here, denounced the state-sponsored murder, characterizing it as "barbaric and inhumane." He said, "Taylor's death will not bring anyone back to life."
Dan Fein spoke for the Socialist Workers Party and said the purpose of the death penalty is to "terrorize working people, especially Blacks and Latinos." He called for the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO troops from Yugoslavia who "are not there to bring peace, but to bring war against the working people there."
Rally sponsors included the ACLU, AI, NAACP, SWP, Young Socialists, and the Black Student Union at the University of Utah.
The Salt Lake Tribune ran photos of the .30-caliber bullets and the rifles to be used on Taylor on the front page of the January 25 edition. The accompanying article said "Six sharpshooters were selected as executioners from a `sizable' list of names submitted by leaders of local and state law- enforcement agencies."
Dan Fein is a member of United Transportation Union Local 1416.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home