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Eye on Boise: Correction officials considered firing squad

Bring back the firing squad as a means of execution in Idaho?

That’s something the state Department of Correction has been exploring, as states continue to struggle to obtain drugs for executions by lethal injection.

“We considered asking the Legislature to amend the statute so a firing squad could be used as a means of execution,” confirmed department spokesman Jeff Ray.

The department went so far as to draft legislation last month, obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Law.

“In any case where the director finds it not reasonably possible to carry out the punishment of death by administration of the required lethal substance or substances, the sentence of death may be carried out by firing squad, the number of members of which shall be determined by the director,” the proposed law said. It also proposed adding confidentiality protections to Idaho executions and the people who carry them out.

Ray said he was not aware of any opposition to the proposed change. The department didn’t go forward because “we determined it would cost at least $300,000 to set up the firing squad,” he said in an email. “The proposal also would have diverted our attention from other important initiatives we have under way. … It just came down to a judgment call.”

Asked if Gov. Butch Otter supported the proposal, Cally Younger, his public records ombudsman and attorney, said, “Our office wasn’t involved with drafting (it), and as far as I know, this was dropped before it could officially be presented to us, so we never had a chance to take a position on it.”

Utah is the only state with a firing squad as a possible means of execution, and even Utah officially ended the practice in 2004 for new cases, unless lethal injection is found to be unconstitutional. However, condemned prisoners who requested the firing squad prior to 2004 still could be executed that way if they come up for execution in the future.

Thirty-five states, including Idaho and Washington, authorize execution by lethal injection. Eight permit use of electrocution and three the gas chamber. Three, including Washington, authorize hanging as a means of execution. But all of those have lethal injection as their primary method.

Oklahoma has a law permitting firing squads only if both lethal injection and electrocution are found to be unconstitutional.

There have been three executions by firing squad since the death penalty was reauthorized in 1976, all in Utah. Gary Gilmore was the first in 1977, followed by John Albert Taylor in 1996. Ronnie Lee Gardner was the last in 2010.

Concern over executions by lethal injection has flared nationally in the past year after gruesome, botched executions in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona, and problems states reportedly have had in obtaining the drugs.

Ray said under state rules he couldn’t comment on the status of the state’s current supply of drugs used to execute prisoners.

“But I can say that after taking a close look at the facts, we decided lethal injection remains a viable option in Idaho,” he said.

As for a firing squad, “A few senior department administrators thought we should take a look at the possibility,” Ray said. “We did and, in the end, decided it would take too much time and money.”

Special ed chief named

State schools Superintendent-elect Sherri Ybarra has announced a key staffer she’ll bring on when she takes office in January: Charlotte Silva, whose 30-year career in education most recently includes serving as the Boise school district’s special education supervisor. Silva will be Ybarra’s special education director.

Jobless rate drops

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in November for the first time since early 2008, the Idaho Department of Labor reports. The 3.9 percent jobless rate in November was down two-tenths of a percentage point from October; a year earlier, it was 5.7 percent. The national unemployment rate remained unchanged in November from October’s level of 5.8 percent.

Ada County came in at a 3.2 percent unemployment rate in November, up from 2.9 percent in October; Canyon County was at 4.7 percent, up from 4 percent in October; and Kootenai County was at 4.5 percent, up from 3.9 percent.

State labor analysts are predicting that the average number of jobs for 2014 could be slightly higher than the previous peak in 2007. The numbers included a continued shift to service-sector jobs, which accounted for 84.5 percent of all Idaho jobs in November, up from 84.3 percent in October.

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