Four bullet holes in an execution chamber: How double killer met his end at hands of a firing squad (as Utah announces his death on Twitter)
By Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 6:04 PM on 18th June 2010
- 'I was expecting to flinch... but didn't': Witness to execution speaks
- Death row inmate described as 'relaxed' during his final hours
- Final meal was steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP
- Executioners fired at Gardner from 25ft... his death was 'instant'
- Killer's family gathers outside the prison gates in vigil
- Utah attorney general announced execution on Twitter
Convicted killer Ronnie Gardner spent the hours before he faced the firing squad watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Utah prison officials revealed.
The death row inmate was described as 'relaxed' during his last day. He also spent time reading the novel 'Divine Justice' and sleeping.
He also met with his lawyers and a bishop from the Mormon church just hours before he was shot dead by a team of five anonymous marksmen with a matched set of .30-calibre rifles.
Fatal: Four bullet holes can be seen in the wooden panel behind the chair where Ronnie Gardner was restrained as the squad opened fire in Utah this morning
The four bullets tore into the wooden panel. Gardner was shot at by 5 executioners - but the fifth bullet was a blank, meaning no one knows who fired the fatal shots
He had eaten his last requested meal - steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP - two days earlier.
Gardner, who had a white target pinned to his chest and was strapped to a chair, was pronounced dead at 12.20am (0620 GMT).
The Utah attorney general announced the execution on Twitter.
'I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner's execution,' Mark Shurtleff tweeted. 'May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.'
Earlier, he had tweeted that it was a 'solemn day'.
'Barring a stay by Sup Ct & with my final nod, Utah will use most extreme power & execute a killer. Mourn his victims. Justice.'
Gardner is the first person to be executed by firing squad in the US in 14 years.
Utah adopted lethal injection as the default execution method in 2004, but Gardner was still allowed to choose the controversial firing squad option because he was sentenced before the law changed.
The rifle ports that were used by his five executioners, volunteers from local law enforcement, stationed at the far end of a 19ft by 23ft room. They were armed with .30-calibre rifles but only four of the five carried live rounds. One of the guns had a blank wax bullet allowing some doubt as to who carried out the execution
Executed: Ronnie Gardner
He told his lawyer he did it because he preferred it - not because he wanted the controversy surrounding the execution to draw attention to his case or embarrass the state.
The executioners were all certified police officers who volunteered for the task and remain anonymous.
They stood about 25 feet from Gardner, behind a wall cut with a gunport, and were armed with a matched set of .30-caliber Winchester rifles.
One was loaded with a blank so no one knows who fired the fatal shot.
Sandbags stacked behind Gardner's chair kept the bullets from ricocheting around the cinderblock room.
Gardner was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt.
Gardner was at the Salt Lake City court facing a 1984 murder charge in the shooting death of a bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom.
'I was expecting to flinch... but didn't': Reporter who watched Ronnie Gardner die speaks
Jennifer Dobner witnessed Ronnie Lee Gardner's firing squad execution for The Associated Press. She gave a chilling account of his death.
The explosive reports sent a volley of .30-caliber bullets from the five marksmen into the chest of Ronnie Lee Gardner.
I was expecting to flinch but didn't as I watched his execution from the witness room. It was so quick that for a split-second I wondered if it had actually happened.
There was no blood splattered across the white cinderblock wall at the Utah State Prison. No audible sounds from the condemned. I couldn't see his eyes. I never saw the guns and didn't hear the countdown to the trigger-pull.
A twice-convicted killer who had a troubled upbringing, the 49-year-old Gardner was executed by firing squad shortly after midnight on Friday. I was one of nine journalists selected to observe his death, which the state classifies as a homicide.
When the prison warden pulled back the beige curtain, Gardner was already strapped into a black, straight-backed metal chair. His head secured by a strap across his forehead. Harness-like straps constrained his chest. His handcuffed arms hung at his sides. A white cloth square - maybe 3 inches (8 centimetres) across - affixed to his chest over his heart bore a black target.
Seconds before the impact of the bullets, Gardner's left thumb twitched against his forefinger. When his chest was pierced, he clenched his fist. His arm pulled up slowly as if he were lifting something and then released. The motion repeated.
Although the dark blue prison jumpsuit made it difficult to see, blood seemed to be pooling around Gardner's waist.
The silence was deafening.
A medical examiner checked Gardner's pulse on both sides of his neck, then lifted the black hood to check his pupils with a flashlight, offering a brief glimpse of his now ashen face.
It was 12:17 a.m. Only two minutes had passed since the shots were fired, but it felt like things had moved in slow motion.
About an hour later, prison officials let the media inspect the chamber. There was a strong smell of bleach, but no sign of blood.
The only evidence that a man had been shot and killed there were four holes from the bullets that impaled the black wood panels behind the chair. Right to left, the distance between them a few inches.
Prison officials say Gardner willing made the 90-foot (27.5-metre) walk to the execution chamber Friday morning. That's hard to imagine, particularly from Gardner, who by his own accounts had spent much of the 30 years he was incarcerated 'obsessed' with escape.
The state classifies executions as homicides. But this hadn't been like other homicides I had covered over my 15-plus years in journalism. In those instances, the media showed up after the death, not before.
This, however, was a meticulously orchestrated event with a sober, pre-packaged ending.
Despite being surrounded by dozens of prison officials and witnesses, Gardner essentially died alone.
No one from his family watched him go. Nor were his attorneys present.
Similarly, Gardner chose not to utter any final thoughts or feelings.
Maybe it was his way of holding on to a small slice of privacy amid his very public death.
Gardner and his 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 Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gardner even tried to appeal to the general 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 scheduled to take place Wednesday.
Members of his family gathered outside the prison, some wearing T-shirts displaying his prisoner number, 14873. None planned to witness the execution, at Gardner's request.
'He didn't want nobody to see him get shot,' said Gardner's brother, Randy Gardner. 'I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother.'
Gardner's lawyers argued the jury that sentenced him to death in 1985 heard no mitigating evidence that might have led them to instead impose a life sentence for the man who described himself as a 'nasty little bugger'.
Gardner's life was marked by early drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage, court records show.
'I had a very explosive temper,' Gardner admitted.
The execution process was set in motion in March when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from Gardner's attorney to review the case. On April 23, state court Judge Robin Reese signed a warrant ordering the state to carry out the death sentence.
At that hearing, Gardner declared, 'I would like the firing squad, please.'
The firing squad has been Utah's most-used form of capital punishment. Of the 49 executions held in the state since the 1850s, 40 were by firing squad.
Gardner was the third man killed by state marksmen since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976. The other two were Gary Gilmore, who famously uttered the last words 'Let's do it' on January 17, 1977; and John Albert Taylor on January 26, 1996, for raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl.
Historians say the method stems from 19th Century doctrine of the state's predominant religion.
Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, believed in the concept of 'blood atonement' - that only through spilling one's own blood could a condemned person adequately atone for their crimes and be redeemed in the next life.
The church no longer preaches such teachings and offers no opinion on the use of the firing squad.
The American Civil Liberties Union decried Gardner's execution as an example of what it called the United States' 'barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment'.
At an interfaith vigil in Salt Lake City on Thursday evening, religious leaders called for an end to the death penalty.
Burdell's family opposes the death penalty and asked for Gardner's life to be spared. In a taped statement, Burdell's father, Joseph Burdell, Jr., said he believes his son's death was not premeditated, but a "knee-jerk reaction" by a desperate Gardner attempting to escape.
But Otterstrom's family lobbied the parole board against Gardner's request for clemency and a reduced sentence.
George 'Nick' Kirk, was a bailiff at the courthouse the day of Gardner's botched escape. Shot and wounded in the lower abdomen, Kirk suffered chronic health problems the rest of his life.
Kirk's daughter, Tami Stewart, said before the execution she believed Gardner's death would bring her family some closure.
Gardner is restrained on the lawn at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice, in Salt Lake City after the courthouse shooting death of Michael Burdell
Friends and relatives of convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner participate in a candlelight vigil as his execution takes place by firing squad
'I think at that moment, he will feel that fear that his victims felt,' she said.
At his commutation hearing, Gardner shed a tear after telling the board his attempts to apologise to the Otterstroms and Kirks had been unsuccessful. He said he hoped for forgiveness.
'If someone hates me for 20 years, it's going to affect them,' Gardner said. 'I know killing me is going to hurt them just as bad. It's something you have to live with every day. You can't get away from it. I've been on the other side of the gun. I know.'
The life and death of a double murderer: Who was Ronnie Gardner?
He was one of Utah's most athletic criminals, a troubled child who went on to become a double murderer whose death will go down in history.
Ronnie Lee Gardner was born on January 16, 1961, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was one of nine children.
His mother, Ruth Lucas, was a party-loving woman who drank during her pregnancies. She and husband Dan Gardner - also a heavy drinker - broke up when Ronnie was a young child.
As Ruth continued her hedonistic lifestyle, Ronnie was largely brought up by a sister who was eight years older than him.
His father - when he was there - told Ronnie he wasn't his son, and beat him.
He contracted meningitis aged four. By age 6, his siblings had taught him to sniff gas and glue. He claimed an older brother molested him. When he was just ten, police investigated accusations he traded a BB gun for marijuana.
He shoplifted and burgled cars. His teachers said he was hyperactive. He was placed in special classes - and, one brother testified, got into a lot of fights because of it.
His drug use escalated to include cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines as he got older. He was hospitalised, and placed in juvenile detention.
He jumped over fences and swam canals in several escape attempts - but was always caught by police.
He had fathered two children by age 19, when he was convicted of robbery and entered Utah State Prison for the first time.
He tried escaping several times, finally succeeding in August, 1964 when he faked an illness and was taken to hospital, where he attacked a guard.
He committed his first murder that year, in the course of an armed robbery. Melvyn Otterstrong was 37 years old. Police called the killing an execution.
He was arrested, and decided he had two options: suicide or escape.
It was during an escape attempt in a courtroom in Salt Lake City that he shot and killed attorney Michael Burdell. He was just 24 years old.
The next year, he was convicted and sentenced to death.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1287553/Murderer-Ronnie-Gardner-executed-firing-squad-failed-final-plea-life.html#ixzz0rFK2n6tl
Admin says: I support the death penalty 100%. But not in Ronnie Gardner's case. This is a man who has had many years to reflect on the crimes that he committed and who, admits that he was in the wrong. He was not pleading his innocence, but I do believe that his stay of execution should have been granted and that his sentence should have been changed to one of life in prison without parole. The man who had the ultimate decision of whether Ronnie Gardner should be allowed to live or die DID NOT HAVE THE CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS TO ALLOW CLEMENCY AND THAT IS WHY RONNIE GARDNER WAS SHOT IN THE HEART EARLIER THIS MORNING.
Why was the decision not in the hands of someone who did have the authority to decide that either yes, this man should die or no, he should not? Why was a stay of execution even asked for of someone who is in charge of a State that does not have the authority to make such a decision? This man should not have been executed, and before all the left wing liberals choose to condone my opinion, think about this: Is everyone who is in a prison - UK or worldwide - rightfully there?
May you rest in peace, Ronnie Lee Gardner.