Utah judge signs execution warrant for Cedar City man convicted in 1998 murder

Jun 10, 2024, 5:09 PM | Updated: Jun 11, 2024, 9:10 am

CEDAR CITY — A Utah judge signed an execution warrant Monday for Taberon Dave Honie, a man who was sentenced to death in 1999 — setting his date for lethal injection on Aug. 8.

Honie, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend’s mother Claudia Benn in front of her three grandchildren, appeared in a Cedar City courtroom on Monday as 5th District Judge Jeffrey Wilcox considered signing his execution warrant.

On July 9, 1998, Honie broke into Benn’s home in Cedar City by smashing a rock into a glass door, then sexually assaulted the woman with a large knife and cut her throat, causing her to bleed to death.

At sentencing, the judge said the death sentence was earned by Honie, not given. “If this isn’t a death penalty case, I don’t know what is,” he said.

After multiple appeals and rulings upholding Honie’s sentence in 2002 and 2014 by the Utah Supreme Court, prosecutors filed an application for an execution warrant on May 1 asking for it to move forward.

When given one more chance to choose whether he wanted to die by firing squad or lethal injection, Honie’s attorney said he does not have the information needed to make an informed choice. That led Wilcox to rule Honie’s decision had been made at his original sentencing — since he made no declaration then, the law outlines he should die by lethal injection.

A new set of execution drugs

On Friday, the Utah Department of Corrections sent a statement clarifying which drugs would be used for a lethal injection and said it has secured the drugs in anticipation of this hearing.

Three drugs make up the lethal injection dose: Ketamine serves as a sedative, fentanyl relieves pain and potassium chloride stops the heart.

Honie’s attorney, Eric Zuckerman, said notice of these drugs on Friday was not enough. He called the three drugs an “experimental cocktail” and said they have never been used for this purpose before.

“They support this proposal with an anonymous declaration by a pharmacist who is licensed to practice in some state, I assume not in Utah or the declaration would have said so,” he said about an affidavit from a pharmacist filed in the case.

Zuckerman noted that a pharmacist would not be allowed to prescribe the drugs, and he said a doctor should publicly testify about those drugs and prescribe the amounts. He said he wants to know where the drugs will come from and whether they will be compounded.

He argued that the defense should have time, after learning the amounts for each drug and the process of administration, to consult with medical experts and decide whether to object to those drugs as unconstitutional, or provide Honie with information about the process and what to expect.

Zuckerman said he has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, before receiving the names of the drugs, regarding the lack of details over the execution method.

He also said the lethal injection protocol has not been updated since 2010, and asked why the Utah Department of Corrections is not updating it — questioning if it is avoiding the legal process of an appeal. He said moving forward with the execution without an update would be “unfathomable.”

“We want to ensure that Mr. Honie’s criminal rights are not violated in an execution that amounts to torture,” Zuckerman said.

Last-minute appeal attempts

Wilcox said at the hearing that his role as judge is narrow — if there is no legal reason to stay the execution proceedings, he should issue the order. He said he is “unpersuaded” by Honie’s arguments that there should be a stay because of his current appeal which does not involve his conviction.

“It’s not an open door for a person facing the death penalty to engage in any litigation to stay his sentence,” he said.

To address the execution protocol argument by Zuckerman, an attorney from the Utah Department of Corrections, Daniel Bokovoy, said the protocol allows for other drugs to be used and is unchanged — aside from minor changes about the place since the prison has moved since 2010.

Prosecutor Daniel Boyer, who argued at the hearing, said there was no reason for the judge to delay signing the execution warrant because there is not currently an appeal or question of Honie’s conviction or sentence.

Boyer said Honie decided not to choose a method of execution when he was first asked in 1999, which meant waiving his choice. The attorney said although it should have happened at his sentencing, Boyer could decide on Monday whether he would choose firing squad or lethal injection — but no later.

“It’s our position that he’s asking for more control over this part of the proceedings than the statutory process allows him,” he said.

Zuckerman, however, argued that the pending litigation should cause an “automatic stay.”

An execution warrant must set the method of execution and a date of execution, which is between 30 days and 60 days from the date it is issued. Honie’s execution date, on Aug. 8, is one day shy of 60 days.

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Utah judge signs execution warrant for Cedar City man convicted in 1998 murder