The time between a death-row sentencing and the actual execution varies greatly -- depending on court rulings and the inmates' desire to challenge the death sentence.
Once sentenced to die, an inmate has at least eight avenues for appeal. And in each step, filing court briefs on the issues, responding to those briefs, reviewing court records and past transcripts, and conducting research is time-consuming. When all of that attorney work is done, it takes judges a significant amount of time to hear evidence on the issues, to review the briefs submitted to the court and to issue rulings.It is unlikely that a death-row inmate could exhaust his appeal options and be executed within a decade of the sentencing date. Five current death-row inmates are approaching or have passed that time period, and three have been on death row for longer than 14 years.
Executions carried out sooner are usually because the inmate chooses not to pursue all of his appeal options -- which is what Joseph Mitchell Parsons chose to do when he decided not to challenge his federal habeas corpus opinion to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Gary Gillmore, Arthur Gary Bishop and John Albert Taylor also chose to end their appeals early and were executed while there were still appeal options remaining.
On the other hand, Ogden's Hi-Fi killers, Pierre Dale Selby and William Andrews, exhausted their appeal options and were on death row for 13 years and 18 years, respectively.
Following Parsons' execution, the next Utah inmate to be executed likely will be either Elroy Tillman, who is nearing the end of his appeal options, or Roberto Arguelles, who has said he won't proceed beyond the mandatory first-stage appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.
Below is an outline of the death-sentence appeal process and approximate time period each step takes:
Under Utah law, the conviction in a death-sentence case is automatically appealed to the Utah Supreme Court (two years).
If upheld, a death-row inmate can then petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the appeal (six months).
If the conviction is upheld, the inmate can file a habeas corpus petition with the state district court where he was sentenced. Habeas corpus petitions cannot include issues brought up in the original appeal and normally deal with issues alleging incompetent legal counsel (one to five years).
If the state habeas petition is denied, the inmate can challenge the district court judge's decision to the Utah Supreme Court (two years).
If the state's highest court upholds the lower court's ruling on the habeas petition, the inmate can petition the U.S. Supreme Court (six months).
Once state-court relief is exhausted, the inmate can file a habeas corpus petition in federal court (one to five years).
If the federal habeas petition is denied, an appeal can be filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (one year).
If that appeal is denied, the inmate can petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the petition (six months).
At any time during the appeals process, an inmate can petition the court to hear new evidence that could prove his innocence. The court can choose to hear the new evidence or deny the petition. The Utah Board of Pardons also has the power to commute a death sentence to life in prison. In Utah, the governor does not have the power to commute a death sentence.
The following is a list of Utah's 12 death row inmates and a brief description of their crimes and where their cases are in the appeals process:
Elroy Tillman: Condemned Feb. 7, 1983, in Salt Lake City for using an ax to bludgeon to death a man while he slept in May 1982. The man had been dating one of Tillman's girlfriends. A ruling on his federal habeas corpus petition is pending in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
Ronnie Lee Gardner: Sentenced to die in November 1985 in Salt Lake City for shooting to death attorney Michael Burdell and critically wounding a bailiff. Gardner was trying to escape during a court hearing on a homicide he committed after a successful escape attempt two years earlier. A ruling on his federal habeas corpus petition is pending in U.S. District Court.
Joseph Mitchell Parsons: Sentenced to die Feb. 18, 1988, for the stabbing death and robbery of Richard Ernest in Iron County, Aug. 31, 1987. His federal habeas corpus petition was denied, and he chose not appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Doug Carter: Convicted of stabbing the elderly aunt of a former Provo police chief multiple times and shooting her in the back of the head during a robbery on Feb. 27, 1985, because of a grudge against the chief. He was sentenced to die Dec. 27, 1985. That sentence was overturned four years later, but he was again sentenced to die in 1992. A decision on his state habeas corpus petition is pending in Provo's 4th District Court.
Ralph Leroy Menzies: Sentenced to die Nov. 18, 1988, for the kidnapping and strangulation of a Kearns woman in 1986. Her body was found in Big Cottonwood Canyon. His state habeas corpus petition is pending in 3rd District Court.
Michael Anthony Archuleta: Condemned Dec. 21, 1989, for raping and torturing to death a gay Southern Utah University student on Nov. 22, 1988. A ruling on his state habeas corpus petition is pending in 4th District Court.
Von Lester Taylor: Sentenced May 24, 1991, to die for breaking into a cabin in Oakley in December 1990, shooting a woman and her mother and seriously wounding the woman's husband. He then kidnapped the couple's two daughters before setting the cabin on fire and fleeing. The wounded husband rode down the mountain on a snowmobile and called police, who arrested Taylor and his co-defendant, Edward Deli. Deli received a life sentence. Taylor has filed a habeas corpus petition in 3rd District Court.
Doug Lovell: Sentenced to die Aug. 18, 1993, in Ogden, for killing a South Ogden woman in 1985 to keep her from testifying against him at a trial on charges that he raped her. His conviction is under appeal with the Utah Supreme Court.
Ron Lafferty: Sentenced to die for beating and cutting the throats of his brother's wife and her 15-month-old daughter in 1984. His original sentence was overturned, but he was again sentenced to die April 10, 1996, and has chosen to die by firing squad. His brother Dan, an accomplice, was sentenced to life in prison. Lafferty's conviction is under appeal with the Utah Supreme Court.Comment on this story
Troy Michael Kell: An inmate in the Gunnison prison and a white separatist who was sentenced on June 26, 1996, for stabbing a black inmate 67 times with a crude knife on July 6, 1994. He chose to die by firing squad. Eric Thomas Daniels, who held the inmate down while Kell stabbed him, was sentenced to life in prison. Kell's conviction is under appeal with the Utah Supreme Court.
Roberto Arguelles: Sentenced to die May 12, 1997, in Salt Lake City for killing three teenage girls and a school janitor in 1992. His conviction is being appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.
Taberon Dave Honie: Sentenced May 20 to die for sexually assaulting and slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend's mother July 9, 1998, in Cedar City. His conviction is under appeal with the Utah Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.