Ronnie Lee Gardner had a quarter-century to ponder his choice, whether to die by lethal injection or take four bullets in the heart.Expect a slew of national or international coverage come June. Something about the "frontier justice" of it all, not to mention his name (can it get any better than "Ronnie Lee Gardner"?) is guaranteed to bring a media firestorm. Particularly since we ain't shot anyone in over 15 years.
In a Utah courtroom Friday, 25 years after he was sentenced to death for killing a man during an escape attempt, he declared his preference to the judge: “I would like the firing squad, please.”
With Mr. Gardner’s appeals apparently exhausted, Judge Robin W. Reese of Third District Court in Salt Lake City signed a warrant of execution and scheduled it for June 18.
In the annals of executions, the firing squad is one of the more efficient methods. Unlike electricity, gas or lethal injection, there is virtually no lag time between the order being given for execution and wondering if dude is dead. Also, there is virtually no chance of anyone surviving the execution.
For decades, Utah let condemned prisoners choose whether to die by hanging or the firing squad, then more recently between lethal injection and a firing squad. In 2004, the Legislature ended the practice, making lethal injections standard. But to avoid legal complications, the state has allowed pre-existing prisoners who had selected the firing squad to remain with that option if they want.Mr. Gardner picked the firing squad at the time of his initial death sentence in 1985. In two later court appearances he seemed to have had a change of heart, switching his choice to lethal injection. But in 1996 — the same year that the last prisoner in Utah, and the country, was executed with bullets — he said he had switched only out of concern for his children, who were then young, and that he had always preferred death by gunfire. “I like the firing squad,” he told The Deseret News at the time. “It’s so much easier ... and there’s no mistakes.”
Procedures for the last two such executions in Utah, which officials said would largely be followed with Mr. Gardner, had five unidentified [law enforcement] officers using identical .30-30 hunting rifles from a distance of about 20 feet. One rifle — which one unknown to the shooters — was loaded with a blank. The condemned man was strapped into a seat while wearing a black jumpsuit and a hood, with a white cloth circle placed over his heart to provide a target.
Like hanging or perhaps the guillotine, the firing squad is quick and relatively instant, but even better, it involves hunting rifles. It doesn't get any more uniquely American than that.
Spit-take. Don't mess with Utah.