Until four years ago, Utah law provided for a choice by the convicted to be executed by firing squad. The law provided that in the event that the condemned refused to make the choice it was incumbent upon the sentencing judge to order a firing squad.
The purpose for the use of a firing squad in Utah was to ensure that the blood of the condemned would be caused to flow. That is a shedding of the blood of the condemned would be caused to flow by the actions of another.
It was an important ritual instigated by Mormon Doctrine to give the condemned an opportunity to be forgiven in the afterlife. Problem is that the actual carrying out of the execution constitutes the delivery of a religious ritual by the state which the U.S. constitution forbids under Amendments One and Fourteen.
The execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in 1977 in Utah, the first execution after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its moratorium on the death penalty was, under Constitutional law, a forbidden act. I attempted to stop it by an Amicus curiae brief to the court. However I failed to timely append a motion for leave to file the Brief and thus the firing squad made up of volunteers mostly Mormons carried out the execution.
The need to spill blood for forgiveness of the condemned is best stated by Bruce McConkie in his seminal work, MORMON DOCTRINE, 1966. After acknowledging the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the author then goes on:
"But under certain circumstances there are some sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate and the law of God is that men must then have their own blood shed to atone for their sins. Murder, for instance is one of these sins; hence we find the Lord commanding capital punishment"
"Joseph Smith taught that there were certain sins so grievous that man may commit, that they will place the transgressor beyond the power of the atonement of Christ. If these offenses are committed, then the blood of Christ will not cleanse them from their sins even though they repent. Therefore their only hope is to have their own blood shed to atone, as far as possible, in their own behalf."
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