SALT LAKE CITY — Ronnie Lee Gardner's date with the firing squad has spurred a group of people opposed to the death penalty to no longer remain silent.

Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty organized as a judge signed Gardner's death warrant in April. It includes nine religious denominations, a couple of organizations and more than 160 individuals who've registered at the coalition's website.

The group opposes the death penalty, contending it is expensive, ineffective, arbitrary and discriminatory. Furthermore, it fails to meet the needs of victims' families, risks being imposed on innocent people and conflicts with religious beliefs.

"We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes, but for how it affects society," says Bishop John C. Wester, of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, a founding member of the group.

Coalition members are calling for a moratorium on further executions in Utah while an independent commission studies capital punishment.

Ralph Dellapiana, a Salt Lake attorney who heads the group, said UTADP intends to incorporate as a nonprofit organization.

"We're in it for the long haul," Dellapiana said. "It's not just the Ronnie Lee Gardner case."

The group drafted a position paper outlining its basic beliefs:

The death penalty is a failed policy that is extremely expensive and ineffective.

The death penalty system doesn't help the families of victims.

Maintaining a death penalty diverts resources that could be spent on truly effective crime prevention and detection activities.

The death penalty is applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner that is socioeconomically, geographically and racially biased.

Many innocent people have been condemned to die.

People in the United States and throughout the world increasingly reject the death penalty.

A death penalty system violates the moral codes of Utah's religious communities.

Life without the possibility of parole is the current alternative to the death penalty, and it works effectively both to punish offenders and protect society at a fraction of the cost of the death penalty system.

"As Christians we condemn the taking of human life, recalling that Jesus himself was the victim of state-sponsored murder, said Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. "His death holds before our eyes the poverty of capital punishment and its capacity to dehumanize those who carry out its sentence. We yearn for the day that justice is neither retributive nor vengeful."

UTADP events

What: Interfaith prayer service

When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m.

Where: St. Mark's Cathedral, 231 E. 100 South

What: Public rally

Who: Delegates of several faiths; singer Kate MacLeod

When: Thursday, 9 p.m.

Where: State Capitol south steps


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