US carries out first execution by firing squad in 14 years
Published 19/06/2010 | 05:00
AMERICA carried out its first execution by firing squad in 14 years when convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner was put to death early yesterday morning.
Gardner (49) chose to die by firing squad. The option was open to him because he was convicted before Utah adopted lethal injection in 2004.
Five volunteer marksmen, all local policemen, fired a volley of shots at Gardner, who was strapped to a chair.
Minutes earlier, officials had moved Gardner from an observation cell, pinned a white target over his heart and placed a hood over his head.
Only four of the weapons were loaded with live rounds while one contained a wax bullet, allowing the marksmen, who stood 25ft away, to retain some doubt over whether they had fired a fatal shot.
Asked if he had any last words, Gardner replied: "I do not. No." He was pronounced dead at 12.17am.
Gardner had been sentenced to death for the murder of Michael Burdell, a lawyer, during an escape attempt in 1985.
He had been trying to flee a court where he was facing another murder charge over the shooting of Melvyn Otterstrom, a barman.
Gardner spent his final days in quiet contemplation. He claimed to have been a reformed man.
He had fasted since his last meal on Tuesday -- consisting of steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP.
After that, Gardner spent the time reading 'Divine Justice', a novel by David Baldacci about a manhunt for a violent murderer, and watching the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy.
At his request, none of his family members were present at the execution but four had met him on Wednesday night. He reached through the bars to touch the face of his daughter Brandie.
"We both cried," she said. "He told me that he was sorry. And he was at peace."
Relatives had gathered outside the prison, along with a large crowd of protesters who decried the method of his death.
His brother Randy said: "He didn't want anybody to see him get shot. I would have liked to be there for him."
Campaigners said execution by firing squad was a form of state cruelty. Elisabeth Semel, director of the death penalty clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, said: "It's difficult to understand the issue of how we can still be engaged in this form of barbarism."
Gary Herbert, the governor of Utah, denied a request for a temporary stay of execution.
Gardner and his defence lawyers fought to stop the execution to the end. They filed petitions with state and federal courts, asked a Utah parole board to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole, and finally unsuccessfully appealed to Mr Herbert and the United States Supreme Court.
Gardner even tried to appeal to the public, setting up an interview with CNN's 'Larry King Live'. But the Utah Department of Corrections cancelled the phone interview minutes before it was due to take place on Wednesday.
The execution divided his victims' families. Mr Burdell's fiancee, Donna Nu, said the lawyer would have opposed the death sentence but Mr Otterstrom's son Jason attended the execution.
Gardner was the third man executed by firing squad in the US since a Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976. (© Daily Telegraph, London)