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.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Utah firing squad executes convicted killer! How barbaric!

SALT LAKE CITY - A Utah firing squad shot to death a convicted killer early Friday in the third U.S. execution by that means since 1976.
Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was pronounced dead at 12:20 a.m. Mountain Time (0620 GMT) after being shot in the chest by a five-man firing squad at the Utah State Prison in Draper, a suburb of Salt Lake City.
Gardner was condemned to die for the 1985 courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner had been in court to face a charge of murdering a bartender.
He chose the firing squad as his means of execution before it was banned by the state and replaced by lethal injection.
His last hope for a reprieve was dashed when the U.S. Supreme Court denied his 11th-hour appeal.
As the execution neared, Gardner, who was dressed in black, was strapped to a black metal chair and hooded and a target was placed over his chest. He declined to make a last statement before he was shot by the five-person firing squad.
“We heard the gun report and it sounded like one gun it was so simultaneous. You could see the bullets go into the suit and then he was gone,” Craig Watson, the cousin of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom, one of Gardner’s victims, told Reuters.
Gardner was also convicted of Mr. Otterstrom’s murder.
One of the .30 caliber rifles used in the execution contained a blank, allowing the executioners to retain some doubt over whether or not they fired a fatal round into Gardner’s chest.
Gardner ate his last meal of steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP soda Thursday, having chosen to fast for the remaining time until his execution.
Gardner’s supporters said he had been abused as a child and suffered mental illness before the murders but had changed while in prison. Gardner recently told a parole board that he hoped to start an organic farm program for at-risk youth.
“Ronnie had a dream and we had a dream as a family to put together a program to help abused kids and kids like Ronnie,” an emotional Randy Gardner, the killer’s brother, told reporters after the execution.
On Thursday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert, who does not have the power to commute a death sentence or pardon a condemned prisoner, denied Gardner’s request for a temporary stay of execution.
Like all other U.S. states where the death penalty is in use, Utah now uses lethal injection as its primary means of putting a condemned man to death. Only Oklahoma still offers the firing squad as an alternative.
Utah’s firing squad made international headlines in 1977, when double murderer Gary Gilmore was executed.
Gilmore, who demanded that the state carry out his death sentence, was the first person executed after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty a year earlier.
“I find it barbaric,” Bishop John C. Wester of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said in an interview.
“If you’re going to do the death penalty, lethal injection would be the more humane way,” Wester said, adding in reference to the firing squad, “It emblazons in our consciousness the violence that guns wreck on our lives.”.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, however, said the state was committed to seeing that murderers faced justice and were never allowed to threaten society again.
“It’s always good to debate the issues of [the] death penalty, but you need to understand that Ronnie Lee Gardner will never kill again,” Mr. Shurtleff said in a press conference after the execution.

Ronnie Lee Gardner's head, covered by a black hood, remained upright. His body sat straight in the chair to which it was strapped.
As my eyes traveled down Gardner's left arm, past his dark blue jumpsuit, I saw his pale white skin appear below his elbow. Half a faded blue tattoo, some kind of diamond shape, stuck out from the restraint around his wrist.
At the bottom of his restraint, I focused on his fist. Gardner died much the way he lived -- with a clenched fist.
Yes, this was my first time witnessing an execution. I have been amazed at how many people asked me that.
Firing four bullets into a man's chest is, by definition, violent. If it can
also be clinical and sterile, then that also happened in this execution. Eight other journalists and I had our own viewing area with about a 6-foot-wide, bullet-proof window. When the curtain opened, there sat Gardner. We were at about a 45-degree angle to his left.
He looked nothing like the athletic 23 year old with the red hair who murdered Melvyn Otterstrom in a robbery, nor did he flash that grin he had in those infamous photographs of him shackled on the courthouse lawn after killing Michael Burdell and wounding Nick Kirk in 1985.
This time, he looked like Utah's own ghost of Hannibal Lecter. Gardner's skin and his white socks contrasted with the dark blue jump suit he wore and the restraints, chair, wooden backdrop and sandbags, all of which were painted black. Restraints circled his wrists, ankles, shoulders and waist, but the restraint across his forehead best exemplified his confinement to me.
Gardner could not even look around the room and the fluorescent lights in the ceiling tiles illuminated his bald head and pale face.
Over his left breast clung a white square, about 2 inches by 2 inches, with a circle in the middle.
The room had no decor. There was a white tile floor with white cinder block walls. The two slits for the shooters sat opposite Gardner and windows for the observers lined the two perpendicular sides.
Steven Turley, warden at the Draper prison, picked up a microphone and announced Gardner had two minutes to say his final words. When Turley asked Gardner if he had anything to say, Gardner said, "I do not. No." Gardner moved his head ever so slightly trying to shake it.
Gardner's final words were to say he had none.
Turley hung up the microphone. Turley reached up and gently pulled a hood over Gardner's head. Turley picked up the microphone, unplugged its cord from a wall jack, wound the cord in his hand and exited the room.
Over the 

next 30 seconds, my heart raced. I realized the five gunmen would launch their volleys any moment. I placed a Styrofoam plug in my right ear to match the one I had earlier placed in my left. The other reporters and I stood in front of the glass. I watched Gardner. As the seconds passed, I grew anxious. I pivoted my eyes away from Gardner toward the slits.
In that fraction of a second my eyes were in transit, I heard "boom boom." The sounds were as close together as you could spew them from your mouth.
My eyes darted back to Gardner and to his chest. The target, perfect just a second earlier, had three holes. The largest hole was in the top half of the circle and toward Gardner's left side. It may have been where two bullets entered Gardner.
Below that hole, still inside the circle, was a smaller hole. Outside the circle, in the bottom right of the target, was a third hole. Each hole had a black outline. Utah Department of Corrections Director Tom Patterson would say later the target was fastened to the jump suit by Velcro and that may account for the black outline.
I watched Gardner's torso. The men who shot John Alberty Taylor in a firing squad in 1996 said they saw Taylor's body slump and I assumed Gardner would, too. But I never saw such a movement.
Instead, a few seconds after the gunshots, I saw Gardner move his left arm. He pushed it forward about 2 inches against the restraints. In that same motion, he closed his
hand and made a fist. Then it happened in reverse. Gardner's hand loosened, his arm bent at the elbow, straightened again and the fist returned. At the time, I interpreted this as Gardner suffering -- clenching his fist in an effort to fight the pain.
As I write this, I don't know whether that's true. It could have just been reflexes or some other process the body begins after a major trauma. Scientists do not know much about what a person shot through the heart feels.
The next movement I saw from Gardner came from beneath his hood. I could see the bottom of his throat and it rippled as though Gardner moved his jaw.
I squinted my eyes, looking for blood. I saw none through the holes in Gardner's chest. None spilled on the floor. The jump suit slightly darkened around his waist and it appeared that's where blood was pooling. But I never saw a drop.
About two minutes passed after the gunshots. It was long enough that I wondered (and some of my colleagues later said they wondered, too) whether Gardner would require a second volley of bullets to die.
Through a side door walked a man in a button-down shirt, slacks and blue plastic gloves. He lifted Gardner's hood only enough to check the pulse on the left side of Gardner's neck. The man appeared to do the same on Gardner's right.
Then the man lifted the hood high enough to shine his small flashlight in Gardner's eyes. When he did this I could see Gardner's face. His mouth was agape. His face was even whiter than it was before the hood covered him.
The man withdrew his flashlight and let the hood fall again. He shut off the flashlight and started to walk out of the room. Gardner was dead.
Turley and Lowell Clark, the director of division institutional operations for the Department of Corrections, entered the chamber. Clark grasped the curtain on my side and Turley the curtain on the opposite wall.
As Clark pulled the curtain along its rod, I pushed my head toward the glass to take one final look at the scene. In the final second, my eyes focused on the straightened left arm, seemingly flexing, and that clenched fist.

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.

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