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Summit County Attorney Joins Call To Repeal State Death Penalty

Margaret Olson

Four county attorneys, including Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson, have written an open letter to Utah Governor Spencer Cox and the state legislature, calling for the repeal of the death penalty.  

The letter, dated September 14th, is also signed by Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt and Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan.

The letter is in support of repeal legislation sponsored by Republican Representative Lowry Snow from the St. George area, and Republican Senator Dan McCay from Riverton.  

Under current Utah law, a person can only be given the death penalty under a conviction of Aggravated Murder.    

The open letter said the death sentence should be replaced by a term of 45 years to life, and gives six arguments for the repeal.

They wrote that the death penalty is an irreversible sentence in an imperfect criminal justice system.

The county attorneys also said the death penalty doesn’t deter crime.    They said FBI data shows average crime rates for states with the death penalty—in particular, rates for violent crime and murder—are higher than average crime rates for the 26 states that have abolished or halted the death sentence.

They also contend there is racial inequity in the application of the death sentence.    The letter said Utah is more likely to execute racial minorities than white people for the same offence; and of the seven Utahns now on death row, one is black, one is Hispanic and one is Native American.

Next, the letter argues that the death penalty brings constitutional appeals that can take decades, which means more court appearances, and the reopening of terrible wounds, for the family and friends of victims.

It adds that the appeals can be financially costly to the state.

Finally, the county attorneys said that since most cases are resolved by plea bargains, the death penalty is coercive--it gives prosecutors too much power to avoid a trial by threatening a defendant with death.

Summit County Attorney Olson made this statement to KPCW.    

“The proliferation of Conviction Integrity Units across our nation, and legislative authorization for them, is a recognition that our system of justice, while among the best in the world, can make mistakes.  Since 1973, the United States has executed 1,532 people.  During that same time, 185 people have been exonerated and released from Death Row.  That means that for 9 people executed, 1 person on Death Row has been exonerated.  That’s not good enough.  The question becomes, in the words of The Equal Justice Initiative, not ‘whether someone deserves to die for a crime.’   The question is whether we, the criminal justice system, the government, deserve to kill.”

The county attorneys said they are not seeking mercy for the murderer but justice for the people.    Their letter said, “A 45 to life sentence will mean that if an offender ever gets out, it will not be until the twilight of their lives.”

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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