Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Firing squad executes convicted killer at Utah prison

DRAPER, Utah - A barrage of bullets tore into Ronnie Lee Gardner's chest where a target had been pinned over his heart. Two minutes later, the twice-convicted killer was pronounced dead as blood pooled in his dark blue prison jumpsuit.
It was the first time in 14 years that an American inmate was executed by firing squad — a method Gardner choose over lethal injection. But death penalty opponents around the world reacted with horror all the same, renewing an international debate about capital punishment in the U.S.
Gardner was the third man to die by firing squad since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
Unlike Gary Gilmore, who famously said "Let's do it" before he was shot on Jan. 17, 1977, Gardner offered few words. Asked if he had anything to say before a black hood was fastened over his head, he said simply, "I do not, no."
The five executioners were police officers who volunteered for the task. They stood about 25 feet (7.6 metres) away, behind a wall cut with a gunport.
One of their .30-calibre Winchester rifles was loaded with a blank so no one would know who fired the fatal shots. Gardner was in a straight-backed metal chair, with sandbags stacked around it to keep the bullets from ricocheting around the cinderblock room at the Utah State Prison.
Nine journalists were permitted to observe the execution, including one from The Associated Press.
When the prison warden pulled back the beige curtain covering the witness room, Gardner was strapped into the chair, his head secured by a strap across his forehead.
Harness-like straps also constrained his chest. His arms were at his sides, handcuffed and strapped to the chair. Affixed to his chest was a white cloth square about 3 inches (7.6 centimetres) wide bearing a black target.
The AP reporter never saw the rifles and did not hear the countdown to the trigger-pull. Utah Department of Corrections Director Thomas Patterson said the countdown went "5-4-3..." with the shooters starting to fire at the count of 2.
Seconds before the bullets hit him, 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.
There was no blood splattered across the white cinderblock wall and no audible sounds from the condemned. Although the dark blue prison jumpsuit made it difficult to see, blood seemed to be pooling around Gardner's waist.
As the medical examiner checked for vital signs, the hood was pulled back, revealing Gardner's ashen face. His head was tilted back and to the right and his mouth slightly open. He was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m.
About an hour later, reporters were allowed to inspect the chamber. There was a strong smell of bleach but no sign of blood. The only evidence that a man had been shot were four small holes where the bullets struck the black wood panels behind the chair.
Gardner was sentenced to death in 1985 for fatally shooting an attorney during a failed escape attempt from a Salt Lake City courthouse.
At the time, he was facing a murder charge in the 1984 shooting death of a bartender named Melvyn Otterstrom. Gardner pulled out a gun that had been smuggled into the courthouse and shot lawyer Michael Burdell in the face as Burdell hid behind a door.
In April, a judge ordered the execution to proceed, and Gardner politely declared, "I would like the firing squad, please."
He was allowed to choose the firing squad because he was sentenced to death before Utah eliminated it as an option. State officials scrapped it in 1984 after previous executions attracted unwanted publicity.
Of the 49 executions carried out in Utah since the 1850s, 40 were by firing squad. Before Gardner's death, the most recent was John Albert Taylor, who was executed on Jan. 26, 1996, for raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl.
Historians say the firing squad persisted in Utah long after the rest of the nation abandoned it because of the 19th century doctrine of the state's predominant religion. Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 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 promotes such teachings and offers no opinion on the use of the firing squad.
The European Union issued a statement Friday expressing its "profound regret" for the execution.
"The EU reiterates its universal opposition to the use of capital punishment and urges the immediate establishment of a global moratorium on its use with a view to abolition," the statement said.
The American Civil Liberties Union decried Gardner's execution as an example of the "barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment." Religious leaders called for an end to the death penalty at an interfaith vigil Thursday evening in Salt Lake City.
"Murdering the murderer doesn't create justice or settle any score," said Rev. Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian Church.
Gardner, who once described himself as a "nasty little bugger" with a mean streak, spent his last day sleeping, reading the novel "Divine Justice," watching the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy and meeting with his attorneys and a Mormon bishop.
Members of his family gathered outside the prison, some wearing T-shirts displaying his prisoner number, 14873.
"I don't agree with what he done or what they done, but I'm relieved he's free," Gardner's brother, Randy Gardner, said after the execution. "He's had a rough life. He's been incarcerated and in chains his whole damn life. Now he's free. I'm happy he's free, just sad the way he went."
None of Gardner's relatives witnessed the execution, at Gardner's request.
"I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother," Randy Gardner said.
Burdell's family opposed the death penalty and asked for Gardner's life to be spared. Relatives of Otterstrom lobbied the parole board to reject Gardner's request for clemency and a reduced sentence.
Otterstrom's cousin, Craig Watson, witnessed the execution on behalf of his family.
A police officer with 35 years on the job, Watson said Gardner accepted the punishment "like a man." Gardner, he noted, seemed calm before the hood was slipped on.
"There was no crying, no wimpering," Watson said Friday. "When it was over with, I just had this feeling that he's gone and we can move on."

Regardless of the method, capital punishment in all forms is completely inhumane, barbaric, cruel and uncivilized. It violates human rights because it is "cruel and unusual treatment/punishment." This is such a sad story. All humans have the right to life, as outlined in the declaration of human rights. Do we not value the human life anymore?! All people, regardless of their past wrongs, can change and be rehabilitated. We need to give everybody the chance and opportunity to improve themselves. This man suffered from abuse and a mental illness and should NOT have even been in prison, but in a mental health facility. Prisons offer little rehabilitation and mental health services. I believe in second chances and I believe that all people can and do change, but we need to give them the opportunity to do so. Capital punishment is so cruel, it should be abolished worldwide. It is the pre-meditated and cold-blooded killing by the government. This should NOT be acceptable. How does killing a murderer, demonstrate to society that killing is wrong? Especially when the killing is executed by the government?! Society should NEVER take the risk of executing an innocent individual. Remember Steven Truscott?? He was sentenced to death in Canada but later found innocent. Innocent people are executed all the time and it's so wrong. Everybody convicted of a serious crime should have the right and opportunity to improve their lives and to rehabilitate themselves. Two wrongs don't make a right. An eye for an eye makes the world go blind. Killing is never right/acceptable, especially when the blood is on the government's hands. How can the government preach against murder, when they practice it themselves? There is absolutely no evidence that capital punishment reduces, deters or prevents crime any better than a prison sentence.. so why do we still execute individuals? The least restrictive/cruel punishment should always be chosen. The only reason capital punishment is still practiced, is simply for revenge, which is completely unjustified. The death penalty always falls disproportionately on socially disadvantaged and marginalized individuals in society, which is discriminatory. The majority of those executed, are of minority status in some way. Everyone has the right to life and the death penalty violates those human rights and nobody should be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. We cannot teach society that murder is wrong when the government is allowed to kill! Capital punishment denies the possibility of rehabilitation and self-improvement. Retribution and revenge are never right. I would rather let the crime of the guilty go unpunished than condemn or punish the innocent. Capital punishment has no place in modern day criminal justice systems and should be abolished. I do not support it under any circumstances.

This is barbarism and murder, not justice. Justice can be served with a prison sentence. In fact, I'd much rather see someone being forced to live out their years behind bars than to provide them with an escape hatch. I don't know how people can voluntarily witness an execution, never mind VOLUNTEER to pull the trigger! 

"draft legislation that sets out what sort of evidence can be viewed as certain (DNA, confession, crime happened in public, etc) and make all convictions of these crimes punishable by death. For crimes where it is speculation with the chance of a mistake, the death sentence wouldn't apply.

I won't pretend to be a lawyer, but all I'm saying is it would suck to be put to death for a crime you did not commit, which is the only reason why I would be against the death penalty. However, in cases where there is certainty I completely support the death penalty. Where there is circumstantial evidence that leads to the guilty sentence, perhaps it makes sense not to have the death penalty on the table." "The only thing we don't need is a 20 plus year wait before these types are put to death. I used to always be against the death penalty as a kid, because my fear was always executing an innocent person. But now, I am 100% for it, I think lawyers simply need to draft something that distinguishes between cases with doubt versus certainty of guilt, and death for all certain murderers/rapists/career criminals would likely lead to a 0% re-offender rate for said convicts!

The problem with what you're proposing (aside from the fact I'm morally against the death penalty) is this: where do we draw the line? For example, confessions can be coerced and there are often cases of mistaken identity by multiple witnesses. I think it would be very difficult to legally define when guilt is absolute.
The problem is, you can't have it both ways. In all cases of wrongful conviction from Milgard on, all those involved were "certain" that the accused were guilty, which is why they manufactured evidence to support their case. "Eye witnesses" are notoriously unreliable, so, unless there is a HD video camera capturing the event in broad daylight and clear close up face shots as well as DNA, etc...we'll never really be 100% sure.

Someone made an interesting comment on a related story. Until we a police force with enough credibility to ascertain if someone is drunk after partying with them for 9 hours of drinking before that person drives away and kills someone stopped at a red light on the highway, we'd be irresponsible to allow their testimony to be admissible in a death penalty case.
The death penalty is exorbitantly expensive, far more expensive than maintaining a person in prison for the rest of their natural lives. In fact, a number of U.S. states that eliminated the death penalty did so in large part because they could not afford to maintain it versus life in prison.

The reason it is expensive is because, when the state decides it has the right to take a life, there are a huge amount of necessary appeals and judicial balances that MUST be built into the system to prevent the state from killing the wrongly convicted. These are massively expensive processes for the state. There are also extra costs with keeping someone on death row, often for many years -- almost $100,000 more USD in some states per prisoner for a single death row inmate, than the cost of keeping that inmate in gen. pop.

Although many people believe, having never researched the issue whatsoever, that the death penalty is cheaper than maintaining someone in prison for life, there is a massive wealth of published statistics documenting that this is false. The death penalty is a huge money sink, in addition to its other problems and issues -- and it costs resources that could be more effectively spent on preventing crime.

two wrongs don't make a right............who feels good about this? the police who volunteered to shoot him? did they go home and have a good night's sleep? barbaric and disgusting.

An eye for an eye? I believe that leaves us all blind.

Amazing that such a barbaric practice can still happen in the 21st century. What's next - chopping off hands for shoplifting?

I'm sure this man's death does absolutely nothing for the families of the victims.

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