Convicted Utah killer set to die by firing squad

A Utah man convicted of two murders was scheduled to die by firing squad early on Friday morning, becoming only the third man put to death by that means in the United States since 1976.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, who chose the firing squad as his method of execution before it was banned by Utah, is expected to die a few minutes after midnight in Utah for killing a lawyer during a bloody 1985 escape attempt.

Gardner’s last hope for a reprieve was dashed when the US Supreme Court denied his 11th-hour appeal. Earlier on Thursday, Utah gvovernor Gary Herbert denied his request for a temporary stay of execution.

“Upon careful review, there is nothing in the materials provided this morning that has not already been considered and decided by the Board of Pardons and Parole or numerous courts,” Herbert said in a written statement released through his office.

“Mr Gardner has had a full and fair opportunity to have his case considered by numerous tribunals,” the governor said.

If his petition to the Supreme Court is also denied, Gardner (49) will be be strapped to a black metal chair and hooded, a target placed over his chest, and asked for his last words before he is shot to death by a five-man firing squad using .30 caliber rifles.

Four of the rifles will be loaded with live bullets and one will carry a blank round, allowing members of the firing squad to retain some doubt over whether or not they fired a fatal round into Gardner’s chest.

Like all US 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.

“I find it barbaric,” Bishop John Wester of the 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.”

Gardner was sentenced to death for the murder of attorney Michael Burdell, whom he shot to death while trying to escape from a courthouse.
Gardner had been in court to face a murder charge for the shooting death of bartender Melvyn Otterstrom and was ultimately convicted in that case as well.

Otterstrom’s son, Jason, will attend the execution, along with other family members.

“Jason and I will be there,” Melvyn Otterstrom’s cousin, Craig Watson, told Reuters. “This is going to be tough for [Jason Otterstrom]. It’s going to be tough for everybody.” - Reuters

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