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The 5 Simple Steps Behind ‘Death By Firing Squad’

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With a severe shortage of drugs used for lethal injections in the United States, on Monday Utah became another of a handful of states to codify firing squads as an alternative method of executing inmates on death row.

Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert signed a law allowing the state to use firing squads to execute an inmate only if the lethal injection drugs are not available 30 days before the execution is set to take place.

So how exactly would a firing squad work?

Step 1: Ready the target

Typically, an inmate will be restrained to a chair with leather straps secured around his waist and head. The chair is placed in front of an oval shaped wall and surrounded by sandbags, which act to stop bullets from ricocheting and absorb blood splatter after the inmate is executed. After a black hood is pulled over the condemned inmate’s head, a doctor will locate the inmate’s heart and pin a circular target over it. The inmate is now ready to meet his maker.

Step 2: ‘Any last words?’

The prisoner is given a two minute time-frame to offer any final words before parting from this world. Some prisoners use this opportunity to apologize for their past offenses, or ask forgiveness from their victim’s families. One convicted felon, though, used his final words to express his disapproval of his attorney.

“Somebody needs to kill my trial attorney,” said George Harris, a man executed in Missouri in 2000 for murder.

Step 3: Executioners take aim

Five executioners position themselves behind a concrete wall set up about 25 feet from the convicted inmate. The shooters then place their rifles, typically .30 caliber Winchesters, through slots in the wall and take aim at the prisoner’s heart. The five shooters are chosen from a pool of volunteer officers, most of whom are from the area where the crime took place. Their names are kept anonymous, and one is given a blank bullet, so it is impossible to know who fired the kill shot.

Step 4: FIRE!

And just like that, it’s over. The execution goes down.

Step 5: Ship out the organs

Unlike those inmates killed by lethal injection, which poisons all the organs, firing squad executions are still viable for use after death. The AP reported that one inmate, Gary Gilmore, who was executed in 1977, agreed to donate his eyes, kidneys and liver before his death by firing squad.

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