UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect House Bill 186 becoming law.
Bryan Kohberger has been accused of murdering four students at the University of Idaho last year in a case that has drawn nationwide attention.
Some recent headlines suggest that if convicted, Kohberger could be executed by firing squad, a method that is nowadays rarely used as lethal injection has become the most common form of carrying out the death penalty.
But is firing squad even still legally an option for executions in Idaho?
Could Bryan Kohberger be executed by firing squad if convicted of murder?
Lethal injection is the primary form of execution in Idaho. However, a bill recently passed by the Idaho state legislature and signed into law by the governor now allows a firing squad to carry out the death penalty in the event the state cannot obtain the drugs needed for injection.
Prosecutors have also not yet announced whether they intend to pursue the death penalty in Kohberger’s case.
WHAT WE FOUND
Bryan Kohberger has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen and Xana Kernodle.
His trial won’t begin for several more months, with the next hearing date set for June 26.
Prosecutors have yet to announce whether they’ll seek the death penalty in his case.
If they do, and Kohberger is eventually convicted and receives a death sentence, current Idaho law says that he must be executed by lethal injection, if possible.
However, the state of Idaho has recently had difficulty obtaining the drugs necessary for lethal injection, causing a planned execution to be canceled. As a result, one lawmaker introduced a bill in the state house to expand the legal options for execution.
House Bill 186, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa), amends Idaho law to allow the state to execute death row convicts by firing squad if lethal injection is not an available option. The director of the Idaho Department of Corrections would decide the specific procedures used in such an execution, as they currently do for lethal injections.
The state House voted 50-15 in favor of the bill on March 3, the state Senate passed it 24-11 on March 20, and Gov. Brad Little signed it into law on March 24.
It will take effect on July 1, 2023 and “apply to all executions carried out on and after the effective date of this enactment, irrespective of the date [the] sentence was imposed.”
There are currently eight inmates on Idaho’s death row, with sentences received as early as 1983.
So it is possible Kohberger could face execution by firing squad. However, it would first require conviction, a death sentence, and for the state to be unable to obtain the drugs necessary for lethal injection at the time of execution, which could be years away.
The new law makes Idaho the fifth state in the country to legalize firing squad executions. Only three people have been executed by firing squad since 1976, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. All three executions took place in Utah.
Since 1976, the year the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty, Idaho has executed three people, most recently in 2012, all by lethal injection.