Why would anyone CHOOSE to die by firing squad? Murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner will be shot dead by five riflemen next month
By Andrew Malone
Last updated at 12:10 AM on 1st May 2010
Next month this murderer will be strapped to a chair with a target pinned over his heart, and shot by five riflemen with silver bullets. What's more, it's the death he wants.
The last thing Ronnie Lee Gardner will see on this earth will be five men clutching hunting rifles.
They will be standing exactly 20ft away, behind a low wall built as a rest for their weapons, and the gun muzzles will be pointing at a white handkerchief pinned directly over his heart.
Then, after being asked whether he has any last words, Gardner will have a black hood slipped over his head and the gunmen will open fire. Seconds later, he will be slumped in a pool of blood.
For Ronnie Lee Gardner currently awaits the ultimate state sanction in the U.S.: execution. And, controversially, this sadistic double killer on Utah's death row has exercised his right to be shot.
The view through a rifle slot for the execution of Gary Gilmore at the Utah State Prison. Gilmore was strapped to a chair, with a wall of sandbags placed behind him to absorb the bullets
Indeed, Utah is the last U.S. state to operate a firing squad, a no-nonsense method of capital punishment that has been used only twice against civilians since the American Civil War.
His request was granted last week. 'I would like the firing squad, please,' said Gardner, 49, when a Utah judge offered him the choice of being shot dead or strapped to a medical trolley and given a lethal injection.
And with the death warrant now signed, his wish will finally be fulfilled on June 18.
Not that he appears to be too concerned about it. Chatting with a prosecutor before being led away from his court hearing, Gardner, a charming but savage and deeply cunning psychopath, was asked how he felt now he was, quite literally, staring down the barrel of a gun. 'Good . . . considering the circumstances,' he smirked.
Facing execution: Double killer Ronnie Lee Gardner
Indeed, while he has given no indication as to why he chose the gun rather than the needle, legal sources say the condemned man hopes that death by firing squad will be quicker and less painful than the increasingly controversial lethal injection.
For Gardner has reportedly been horrified by accounts of botched executions, particularly that of Romell Broom last year.
Broom's executioners spent two hours trying to find a vein for the lethal injection, stabbing needles into the condemned man's arms, legs, hands and ankle bone.
Broom even tried to help the executioners find a vein; at one point, even advising officials on how best to use a syringe. Eventually, the punishment was suspended.
Yet if Gardner hopes his own choice of death will be any less terrifying, he is wrong - as he will discover soon after midnight in six weeks' time.
Ronnie Lee Gardner sits with his lawyer Andrew Parnes in court at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah
When night falls on that Friday evening, he will be served a final meal of his choosing and spend time with the prison chaplain, before being dressed in dark blue overalls.
The white handkerchief will be attached by Velcro over his heart - a clear, easy target for the marksmen preparing themselves nearby.
In the darkness, with his legs and wrists in iron cuffs, Gardner will then be taken to his Utah prison's execution chamber, last used in 1999 for the lethal injection execution of Joseph Mitchell Parsons, a career criminal who stabbed to death an innocent man in a frenzied attack in 1987.
The condemned man will then be strapped to a specially-designed chair which has a hole in the seat to allow blood to drain into a metal pan beneath. Sandbags will be placed behind the chair. His arms, legs and neck will be strapped to the chair's back.
Five members of Gardner's family will be allowed to watch this grisly spectacle from behind one-way, bulletproof glass.
The glass is to 'physically and psychologically' separate witnesses from the condemned, and to ensure they are not hit by any ricochets.
Gardner is restrained on the lawn at the Metropolitan Hall of Justice, in Salt Lake City after the courthouse shooting death of attorney Michael Burdell during Gardner's failed escape attempt in April 1985
Five members of Gardner's victims' families will also be invited as witnesses, along with local media and the chaplain.
The marksmen - trained volunteers drawn from the local police force - will use .30 calibre Winchester rifles and silver-tipped bullets, popular with local hunters tracking deer and black bears in the nearby mountains.
Only four of the shooters, however, will have live rounds in their weapons. Neither Gardner nor the shooters will know which of them has the blank cartridge, ensuring no one can be sure who fires the fatal rounds.
Lining up, the marksmen will rest their weapons on the low wall in front of them, steadying their rifles so they can get a clean shot. Then all eyes will be fixed on the white target, waiting for the bullets to hit home.
The marksmen will all aim for the chest because, quite simply, it's easier to hit than the head. The four bullets should rupture the heart and lungs, meaning the condemned man should die swiftly from shock and massive internal haemorrhaging.
Reinard Knutsen, right, of the American Civil Liberties Union hands out anti-death penalty sign's before a news conference held by 'Utahans for the Alternative to the Death Penalty' at the Matheson Courthouse
To avoid accusations of profiteering - in China, prisoners are shot in the head so their organs can be harvested - Utah state officials have decided that Gardner's organs will not be used to help the desperately ill.
Instead, after the prison doctor has checked that he's dead, his remains will be placed in a cheap coffin and handed to his family.
Not surprisingly, the case has divided America - and prompted worldwide interest in the use of such a means of execution by the West's leading power.
It is certainly an antiquated form of execution and Utah was one of only three states to allow execution by firing squad when the U.S. reintroduced the death penalty in 1976.
Even Utah withdrew the option in 2004. Indeed, Gardner has had his request granted only because he had stated that it was his favoured method of execution before the ban came into force.
With vigils already being planned by anti-death penalty campaigners outside the jail, Amnesty International last night called for the sentence to be commuted to life without parole.
'In Utah, they go back to the Old Testament and cite "an eye for an eye" whenever it suits them,' says Amnesty's Linda Kalish. 'These people [convicted murderers] may be the worst of the worst, but it's wrong to do as they did.'
Ruby Price holds a anti death penalty sign and waits for a news conference to start held by 'Utahans for the Alternative to the Death Penalty'
The powerful U.S. Catholic lobby has also called for Gardner to be spared. 'The firing squad is archaic, it's violent and it simply extends the gun violence we already experience as a society,' says Bishop John C. Wester, of Utah's Catholic Diocese.
Not that Utah government lawyers have the slightest misgivings about putting Gardner to death - or employing the means he has chosen. Indeed, they even plan to issue specially-minted commemorative coins to the officers involved in the execution.
They have, however, banned all interviews with Gardner, claiming they want to limit the attention he receives. Other officials, meanwhile, have told me that he remains a highly-dangerous individual who would still kill if given the chance.
The people he killed, of course, were given no choice as to how and when they would meet their end. Gardner, a career criminal from an abusive, poor Utah family, claimed his first victim after escaping from jail by faking an illness and then overpowering a guard.
On a violent robbery spree, he shot dead local barman Melvin Otterstrom. On his way to a court hearing for that murder, he arranged for a gun to be slipped to him by a girlfriend.
Once there, Gardner opened fire, killing respected lawyer Michael Burdell with a single shot to the head and taking a number of hostages. Only when police surrounded the building did he throw down his weapon and surrender.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, right, and lead attorney for the Utah Attorney General office Thomas Brunker, look over the warrant of execution signed for Ronnie Lee Gardner
After being sentenced to death, Gardner was far from a model Utah inmate. In 1987, he and another inmate held hostage two female visitors, forcing them to perform sex acts. He also stabbed an inmate repeatedly during a separate jail fight.
Extraordinarily, however, even Michael Burdell's family have now joined the campaign for clemency. 'He [Burdell] would not have wanted Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution,' said Donna Nu, the dead lawyer's girlfriend, who pointed out that her partner had refused to carry a gun after being drafted to serve in Vietnam. 'If Michael had lived, he would have defended him [Gardner].'
But with all legal appeals now exhausted, it seems Gardner will not have time to write the autobiography he has planned for so long.
In a letter smuggled from jail in 2000, the condemned man revealed: 'I'm anticipating having my sentence overturned real soon and I'm looking for someone that would be interested in helping me write a book.'
In a staggering display of self-aggrandisement, the murderer added: 'There are many twists, turns, plots and subplots to my story. I think now is the perfect time to get this project rolling.
'If you are interested in helping me with my project and have the skills, let's get started. Always and forever, Ronnie Lee. Death Row, PO Box 250 Draper, Utah.'
Now, a decade later, bullets rather than the bestseller list beckon. And Paul Murphy, a former Utah journalist, has bad news for Gardner: he will feel the pain of death.
Spree killer Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad in January 1979
One of the few people ever to witness execution by both firing squad and lethal injection in the U.S., he says injections are like watching a 'minor operation in hospital', while death by firing squad is 'more of an honest execution. It more accurately depicts what has happened. A man is being put to death'.
Indeed, after being invited to witness the firing squad death of John Taylor in 1996 - which was branded grotesque and barbaric by campaigners, and which saw 150 television crews from all over the world descend on Utah for the spectacle - Murphy still shudders at the memory.
'We saw this very large man strapped to a chair,' he says. 'His eyes were darting back and forth. At 12.03am, on the count of three, the five riflemen fired at a white cloth target pinned over Taylor's heart.
'As the volley hit him, Taylor's hands squeezed up, went down, and came up and squeezed again. His chest was covered with blood. Four minutes later, a doctor pronounced him dead.'
That execution took place because Taylor, who had raped and killed an 11-year-old girl, said he didn't want to 'flop around like a dying fish' after receiving a lethal cocktail of drugs. It's thought that Gardner, who has poor veins, also fears dying in agony.
But Tom Brunker, prosecuting lawyer for the Utah Attorney General, who has got to know Gardner during years of court battles, dismisses claims that there is anything barbaric about the method of execution, pointing out that Gardner is the author of his own misfortune.
'Death is totally appropriate for Ronnie,' Mr Brunker told me. 'We don't say the word "psychopath" any more. We say he has a dangerously anti-social personality. He's very articulate, but he remains a dangerous man.
'Whatever your objections to the death penalty, or whether there is the option of life behind bars without parole, this doesn't apply to Ronnie. He's murdered to escape. He's murdered while escaped. He has stabbed another inmate.
'Someone who has proven they can't be locked away, someone like that, even just for practical reasons, should be executed. We will vigorously oppose any further stays of execution.'
And for all the arguments among the great and good, ordinary people in Utah - and throughout America - have no objection to the death penalty, with more than two-thirds in favour.
Indeed, America's attitude to the death penalty was encapsulated by a Utah caller to a U.S. news debate about the sentence.
The man said: 'Since when does the criminal get a say in the matter? Gardner surely didn't allow his victims any decisions. No firing squad for this bum. Hang him slowly from a public bridge for all to see.'
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1270144/Why-CHOOSE-die-firing-squad-Murderer-Ronnie-Lee-Gardner-shot-dead-riflemen-month.html#ixzz0md4fGsfn
Admin says: This may be a long shot (no pun intended), but the firing squad have less chance of botching up the execution - old sparky has been known to malfunction a few times.