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Is the death penalty dead in Utah?

Published: Monday, Sept. 30 2013 4:26 p.m. MDT

"Unless you're part of the equation, you have no perspective of this," he said. "The further you're removed from the situation the easier it is to make a judgment."

He said the five years of hearings without a trial and the idea of more years of appeals were frustrating for the family. Those with the district attorney's office worked with them and kept them informed.

Ultimately, having Allgier plead and receive a sentence of life without parole was the best outcome for the family, Mark Anderson said. They can be assured Allgier will never again be released from prison and won't have to have their wounds reopened in future court hearings.

"There's no question that we believe, in this particular case, that justice was served," he said. "When you have a crime that's committed, you need to protect two entities. You need to protect the victim and the public in general, and in both of those situations justice was satisfied."

He said Stephen Anderson was kind and forgiving and those traits guided questions about what he would do if he had been in the shoes of his surviving family. His wife and children still miss him but are moving forward.

"They've grown," Mark Anderson said. "They've found that the road after tragedy can still be as wonderful as it was before. You just have to adapt and change sometimes and that's what they've done and they've done very well."

Based on the research he's done, Gillespie said most families of victims who want to move on "have found it's much easier to forgive and get on with their lives rather than looking for some sort of revenge or vengeance or something which they don't seem to find, particularly in the way we apply the death penalty.

"Whether life without parole appeases people or not, the research I've done has suggested that the victims, for a large part, would just as soon forgive and get on with it, and that's how they bring closure to themselves," he said.

Appropriate penalty

But while years of appeals are difficult for victims' families, many still believe the death penalty is appropriate punishment.

“Our family feels the death penalty actually represents a reverence for the sanctity of the lives of the innocent,” Barbara Noriega, whose mother and sister were killed in their Oakley cabin in 1990, told lawmakers last year.

She said, however, that waiting so many years for death row inmate Von Lester Taylor's execution is an injustice and travesty for her and her relatives.

Craig Watson, whose cousin Melvyn Otterstrom was killed by Gardner in 1984, witnessed Gardner's firing squad death in 2010 and said it gave him some peace.

"I don't know if the proper word is closure, but I viewed the execution and what I can tell you is that Mr. Gardner was treated a lot more humanely than the way he killed my cousin," Watson told legislators in November. "I can also tell you that when it was over, there was a feeling of peace that comes over you. You'd have to be involved to understand it."

No one has been executed in Utah since Gardner was put to death.

Life without parole

In 1992, the Utah Legislature gave judges and juries an option of sentencing killers to life in prison without parole. Stott and Gill both said that sentence has provided an effective alternative to the death penalty.

Stott said that both in Utah and across the nation, there's been a major reduction in capital murder trials and that can be attributed to having a life without parole option.

"What we're finding is that when we get to these cases, most of the people involved find that the life without possibility of parole penalty is preferred," Stott said. "The victims are feeling that way, the prosecutors are feeling that way, the police are feeling that way. Why? Because we eliminate all the problems we've been talking about that occur even if we do get the death penalty.

"We ensure that defendant will be in prison for the rest of his life, and that meets the need of the great majority of these cases."

Gill said that the sentence still sends a powerful message.

"People sometimes don't fully appreciate (it)," he said. "Let's just slow down and conceptually try and get our brains around the idea of life without the possibility of parole. What does that mean? … That is, that person is never coming out — ever. The world has shrunk itself down to the size of that cell. That is the universe there."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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