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Gardner Killed in First Firing Squad Execution in 14 Years

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by hearit

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In The News

Utah death row inmate Gardner is executed by firing squad--the first firing squad death in 14 years, only the third since 1976 when the U.S. death penalty was reinstated. Gardner execution sparks outrage here and abroad--over humanity issues.

Utah Death Row prisoner Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by firing squad just after midnight--the first time in 14 years a death sentence was carried out by firing squad in the United States, and only the third time a firing squad has been used for execution since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Gardner’s attorney told the media that Gardner chose execution by firing squad not to create controversy, but specifically because the death row prisoner believed it was the more humane way to die.

Experts argue that execution by firing squad is more humane than all other execution methods, without the court challenges of cruelty that plagued lethal injection.

Execution by “lethal injection, which has the veneer of medical acceptability, has far greater risks of cruelty to a condemned [death row] person,” said Fordham University Law School professor Deborah Denno, who has written extensively on that constitutionality of U.S. executions and execution methods.

Five sharpshooters, all volunteer officers, are used for firing squad executions that occur 25 feet from the prisoner to be executed. The firing squad fires the bullets simultaneously--with one of the shooters’ .30-caliber Winchester rifles loaded with a blank, so that none of the volunteers knows which bullet is responsible for killing the death row prisoner.

Granddaughter Darian Gardner told the media:

"I've got to know, you know, he [Gardner] did things bad in the past, but ... now he realized what he did and he's changed the last couple of years," she said.

After 25 years on death row Gardner was asked before the execution whether the inmate had any last words-Gardner had none, the death row inmate pronounced dead within two minutes following firing squad execution.

Utah inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner was 49 years old at the time of execution. Journalists Cheryl Worsley and Ben Winslow witnessed the executions and had indicated that Gardner’s body moved following the shooting.

"You didn't hear the countdown; it just happened and the shooting part was over. It was just the movement I think was probably the hardest thing for us," Worsley told the media. "On occasion his [Gardner’s] thumb and forefinger would still be moving. I thought he was still alive at that point, which startled me, but…the medical examiner came in and pronounced him [Gardner] dead," Winslow added.

Firing squad executions were actually legally outlawed by the state of Utah in 2004 but because Gardner had been sentenced to death before that year, the Utah prisoner could still ask for firing squad as a method of execution. April of 2010, when a Court judge ordered the Gardner execution to proceed, and Gardner declared, "I would like the firing squad, please."

Death row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner was convicted for killing lawyer Michael Burdell, when attempting to escape from a Court in 1985.

Ralph Dellapiana, from the group Utahans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, claims that Gardner should not have faced the death penalty. "Well, it [the execution] shouldn't have gone ahead because it [the death penalty received by Gardner] was unfair. I mean ... Ronnie Lee Gardener never had a fair [Court] sentencing hearing," Dellapiana said.

While Ronnie Lee Gardner was given the death penalty following his killing of an attorney during Court escap, Gardner was at the Court while facing a previous murder charge for the 1984 shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom.

Murder of attorney Michael Burdell was actually the second man Gardner was accused of murdering only about one year apart.

"Around the world I've been hearing reports that it's surprising a civilized, developed Western nation [the United States] would still have the death penalty at all," says Dellapiana.
The European Union (EU) issued a statement--the day of Gardner’s United States firing squad killing--expressing its "profound regret" for the execution.

"I think the United States is the only one that still does and it's shocking and appalling and barbaric that it still can be done with a firing squad[execution]. But in our view, our protest was not about the manner of the execution [of Ronnie Lee Gardner], because we believe that there's no nice way to kill somebody."

The American Civil Liberties Union has called Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution an example of the "barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment."

In 2009, 52 death row prisoners were executed in the United States. Texas had the most executions last year—24 in total for the year--but use of the death penalty has been steadily diminishing across the world.


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