The execution of John Albert Taylor will be listed as a homicide on the man's death certificate, according to the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
Taylor, who was killed Friday by a firing squad at the Utah State Prison, suffered "intentional death by another hand" and his execution therefore fits the state's legal definition of homicide, said sheriff's Lt. Manfred Lassig.However the law enforcement officers who shot Taylor are not murder suspects. Utah law specifically exempts the actions of executioners from criminal prosecution, justifying their use of deadly force as obedience to the judgment of a competent court.
Lassig, who attended Taylor's autopsy last week, said the convict's death will also be counted as a homicide in his office's annual statistics.
Defense attorney Ed Brass, who was the last lawyer to spend time with Taylor, said he thinks the man would find some honesty in the official labeling of the execution as a homicide.
"It does fit in with what he said before he died and that was that he felt the state was murdering him," said Brass. "I suppose it confirms his opinion."
A final report of the death examination will be forwarded to the sheriff and the Salt Lake District Attorney in about two weeks, said Todd Grey, chief medical examiner for the state.
By law, the medical examiner must certify the manner and method of death of every homicide in the state. In the past, the manners of death of executed convicts have been certified as homicides. The method, in the case of a firing squad execution, would be listed as "multiple gunshots," Grey said.
Lassig said two of the four .30-caliber slugs fired at Taylor were recovered from his body during an autopsy last week. The third was found lodged between the man's skin and the blue jumpsuit he was wearing; the fourth round pierced the body and struck the back of the execution chair.
The bullets were soft lead covered by a thin copper jacket, Lassig said. All of them deformed into a mushroom-like shape; the one found in Taylor's clothing had separated from its copper jacket, he said.
Ballistics experts agree the rounds were probably 150-grain cartridges loaded to Winchester factory specifications. Ballistics manuals indicate such loads fire lead slugs at 2,390 feet per second, meaning the bullets that hit Taylor's heart were traveling about 1,600 mph.
Each slug carried a force of 1,900 foot-pounds. A foot-pound is the amount of energy required to raise a weight of one pound a distance of one foot.
"It's not so much that he was hit with 1,900 pounds moving at 1,600 mph. That force was concentrated in one small area and that's why they penetrate. Had that force been spread across his body somehow, he would have been moved back several feet," said Dave Knell, owner of Golden Spike Firearms in West Valley City.