1996: Billy Bailey, the last American hanged 1940: Isaak Babel

1996: John Albert Taylor, the last American to face a firing squad

January 26th, 2010 Headsman

Moments past midnight on this date in 1996 five anonymous marksmen fired four .30-.30 caliber rounds (one rifle had blanks, a balm to the shooters’ consciences) into the heart of Utah rapist John Albert Taylor: the last use to date of a firing squad in the United States. (Update: Not anymore.)

Actually, he’s the only person put to death by shooting under the modern American death penalty regime besides Gary Gilmore.

Like Gilmore, Taylor voluntarily dropped his appeals and sought his own execution for the 1989 rape-murder of Charla Nicole King. A confidante would later reveal that health problems led him to do so in preference to the feared alternative of dying alone in his cell.

As he chose death, so he chose the method: not a clinical, forgettable lethal injection, but the discomfiting tableau of the target pinned over his heart, the protective sandbags stacked up behind him, and the tray of blood beneath the chair he was strapped into. Taylor said he wanted to make a statement. (And that he feared “flipping around like a fish out of water” on an injection gurney, his other option in Utah.)

The reclusive Taylor denied the crime to the end, but never found many takers for the story he was selling — that he’d just so happened to leave his fingerprints on the phone cord later used to strangle the prepubescent girl in the course of committing an unrelated robbery. It didn’t help that Taylor had raped his own sister when she was 12.

For the national and international media circus — British, Australian, Japanese, German, Italian, French, and Spanish media all represented — the story was the anachronistic method of execution, right out of the Wild West.

That story doesn’t have many rounds left in the chamber, as it were. In 2004, Utah succumbed to pressure to change its execution method to lethal injection alone. Though the firing squad is technically on the books in Idaho (at the discretion of the state, not the prisoner) and Oklahoma (as a backup option to lethal injection), it’s vanishingly unlikely to be used in either state.* That leaves just a few of the pre-2004 Utah prisoners grandfathered into the option to supplant John Albert Taylor for the distinction of suffering the last firing squad execution in American history.


That’s a “last,” but given our bloggy medium, we would be remiss not to notice a milestone “first” that also attended Taylor’s death.

According to the Deseret News (Jan. 26, 1996), the ACLU sponsored an America Online chat with anti-death penalty actor Mike Farrell during the hours leading up to and following this execution — “the first-ever death-penalty vigil in cyberspace.”

* Predominantly Mormon Utah has been the firing squad’s last redoubt thanks to the sect’s “blood atonement” theology. (As seen in its pioneer days.) According to the Espy file (pdf) of historical U.S. executions, the last American execution by shooting not to occur in the state of Utah was that of Andrigi Mirkovich in Nevada back in 1913. (Oklahoma used the firing squad routinely in the 19th century.)

Part of the Daily Double: Throwback Executions.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Rape,Sex,Shot,USA,Utah,Volunteers

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8 thoughts on “1996: John Albert Taylor, the last American to face a firing squad”

  1. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Actually, I think the firing squad might be the best way to go. Why, you ask? (LOL!) Well, I wouldn’t want my neck snapped, as in being hanged (just think, it’s your own body weight providing the snapping power); and I wouldn’t want to hold my breath till I gasped and inhaled the poison gas; I wouldn’t want to be electrocuted ’cause my eye balls will burst, which makes a bad viewing; I wouldn’t want to lay down to receive a needle filled with a toxic mix, and we never did adopt the French blade, which is exceedingly quick. So the firing squad, I believe, would be the fastest and the easiest way to go.

  2. Dawn says:

    Hi Kevin. Just read your blog on here..am a newbie to this site, and I am enjoying reading all i can on here. As for the methods of execution, there may be one other….bow and arrow…of course, one would have to be a hell of a shot. But can you imagine, and it has happened and still does….is stoning. I cannot fathom the time considered for this archaic method, not to mention the excrutiating pain the reciever is going thru. As well, how many times one would be hit in the knee caps because of poor aim. Yipes. Anyway, I look forward to reading blogs on here..I have one blog of my own..i think it is..missvocalese.typepad.com on here. Take care, and happy blogging. Dawn

  3. Kevin M. Sullivan says:

    Hi Dawn–

    I mainly answer questions at the Ted Bundy site here at Executed Today, but I jumped over for a second the other day to add my somewhat humorous opinion on the methods of execution.

    Yes, stoning would be horrible indeed. I think burning at the stake would be, perhaps, the most terrible of them all. And you’re right, the bow and arrow would take great skill; and even then, if the arrows didn’t land just right, it could take forever to die. And to think, there are those who think lethal injection is a terrible way to die.

    I still say the firing squad is the fastest and most painless way to go. Better still, lets not do anything worthy of being put to death, LOL!

    take care, Dawn!

    Kevin

  4. Horus says:

    All executees should be given morphine to alleviate the pain.

    best way to go would be the guillotine or the firing squad

  5. FRANarchy says:

    sad that is wasn’t american’s last death by firing squad.

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