Ronnie Lee Gardner executed by Utah firing squad

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in Utah at 0020 local time (0620 UTC) on Friday. His execution was performed by five volunteer riflemen. Gardner would not have seen his executioners due to bright lights during his final words before a bag was placed over his head. The execution was carried out at a prison in Draper, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

This is the first execution by firing squad carried out in the United States since John Albert Taylor on January 26th, 1996. Taylor was convicted of raping and then murdering an eleven year old girl. Gardener chose his death by firing squad because he murdered with a gun and so stated he would die by the gun. The first man in Utah to be executed by firing squad was Gary Gilmore in 1977 for murdering two people.

In 1985, Gardner was convicted of fatally shooting a lawyer, Michael Burdell, during a failed attempt at escaping a courthouse. This was during his trial for the murder of Melvyn Otterstrom in 1984.

The five volunteers were not informed if they were given a live or blank round to ensure that they did not know if they gave the lethal shot. Gardner was asked if he had any final words and said: "I do not. No." There was then a count-down from five, with the guns being fired on two. Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used the Twitter micro-blogging site to say he had given the go-ahead for execution. "May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims". Friends and family members had gathered outside the prison to hold a vigil with some wearing t-shirts showing his prison number, but none were allowed to view the execution.

In 2004, Utah passed legislation stating that all death-row inmates will be killed by lethal injection, however those sentenced before 2004 are allowed to opt for the death by firing squad, as Gardner did.