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Utah Rep. Abandoning Push to Repeal Death Penalty

The measure was expected to quickly meet roadblocks in the GOP-dominated Legislature, but squeaked cleared the Senate and a House committee this week.
Image: The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad
The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in Drape, Utah, on June 18, 2010. TRENT NELSON / EPA file

A Republican Utah lawmaker who pushed his colleagues in the conservative state to abolish the death penalty is abandoning the effort hours before a deadline to approve it.

Sen. Steve Urquhart told The Associated Press Thursday night that there wasn't enough support for the measure in the state's House of Representatives and it wouldn't get a final vote before midnight deadline.

Urquhart says he came close to getting the needed votes but enough lawmakers were on the fence that the debate would have eaten up the final hours of the legislative session.

He says that likely wouldn't win him much favor and support for the measure.

The legislators are required by law to adjourn at midnight.

Urquhart says he thinks the proposal might be brought back in future years.

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Hours before lawmakers were set to adjourn, the older brother of the last man executed in Utah interrupted legislators by shouting at them from the gallery in the House of Representatives.

Randy Gardner of Salt Lake City, who opposes capital punishment, unfurled a banner with autopsy images of his younger brother while yelling "Nobody has the right to do that to somebody. I don't care who he is and what he did."

Legislative security removed the banner and took Gardner outside in handcuffs. He told reporters he was upset that it appeared they may not vote on the repeal.

His younger brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was executed in 2010 by firing squad. He killed a bartender and later shot a lawyer to death and wounded a bailiff during a 1985 courthouse escape attempt.

The measure was originally believed to meet quick roadblocks in Utah's GOP-dominated Legislature, but it cleared the Senate and then squeaked through a House committee this week.