US killer Ronnie Lee Gardner executed by firing squad

A firing squad executed a convicted killer today, US prison officials said.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was shot dead in Utah by a team of five anonymous marksmen with a matched set of .30-calibre rifles.



Gardner, who had a white target pinned to his chest and was strapped to a chair, was pronounced dead at 12.20am (0620 GMT).



He is the first person to be executed by firing squad in the US in 14 years.



Gardner was sentenced to death for the 1985 courthouse shooting of lawyer Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt. He was at the Salt Lake City court facing a 1984 murder charge over the shooting death of a barman.









Utah adopted lethal injection as the default execution method in 2004, but Gardner was still allowed to choose the controversial firing squad option because he was sentenced before the law changed.



He told his lawyer he did it because he preferred it - not because he wanted the controversy surrounding the execution to draw attention to his case or embarrass the state.



Some decried the execution as barbaric, and about two dozen members of Gardner's family held a vigil outside the prison as he was shot. There were no protests at the jail.



The executioners were all certified police officers who volunteered for the task and remain anonymous. They stood about 25 feet from Gardner, behind a wall cut with a gunport, and were armed with a matched set of .30-calibre Winchester rifles. One was loaded with a blank so no-one knows who fired the fatal shot.



Sandbags stacked behind Gardner's chair prevented the bullets from ricocheting around the cinderblock room.



Gardner and his defence lawyers fought to stop the execution to the end. They filed petitions with state and federal courts, asked a Utah parole board to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole, and finally unsuccessfully appealed to Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the US Supreme Court.



Gardner even tried to appeal to the general public, setting up an interview with CNN's Larry King Live. But the Utah Department of Corrections cancelled the phone interview minutes before it was scheduled to take place on Wednesday.



Gardner spent his last day sleeping, reading the novel Divine Justice, watching the Lord Of The Rings film trilogy and meeting his lawyers and a bishop from the Mormon church.



A prison spokesman said officers described his mood as relaxed. He had eaten his last requested meal - steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7Up soft drink - two days earlier.



Members of his family gathered outside the prison, some wearing T-shirts displaying his prisoner number, 14873. None planned to witness the execution, at Gardner's request.



"He didn't want nobody to see him get shot," said Gardner's brother, Randy Gardner. "I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother."



Gardner's lawyers argued that the jury which sentenced him to death in 1985 heard no mitigating evidence that might have led them to instead impose a life sentence for the man who described himself as a "nasty little bugger". Gardner's life was marked by early drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage, court records show.



"I had a very explosive temper," Gardner admitted.



The execution process was set in motion in March when the US Supreme Court rejected a request from Gardner's lawyer to review the case. On April 23, state court Judge Robin Reese signed a warrant ordering the state to carry out the death sentence.



At that hearing, Gardner declared: "I would like the firing squad, please."



The firing squad has been Utah's most-used form of capital punishment. Of the 49 executions held in the state since the 1850s, 40 were by firing squad.



Gardner was the third man killed by state marksmen since a US Supreme Court ruling reinstated capital punishment in 1976. The other two were Gary Gilmore, who famously uttered the last words "Let's do it" on January 17, 1977; and John Albert Taylor on January 26, 1996, for raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl.



Historians say the method stems from 19th century doctrine of the state's predominant religion. Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, 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 preaches such teachings and offers no opinion on the use of the firing squad.



The American Civil Liberties Union decried Gardner's execution as an example of what it called the US's "barbaric, arbitrary and bankrupting practice of capital punishment".



At an interfaith vigil in Salt Lake City yesterday evening, religious leaders called for an end to the death penalty.



Mr Burdell's family opposes the death penalty and asked for Gardner's life to be spared. In a taped statement, his father, Joseph Burdell Jr, said he believed his son's killing was not premeditated, but a "knee-jerk reaction" by a desperate Gardner attempting to escape.



But the family of barman Melvyn Otterstrom lobbied the parole board against Gardner's request for clemency and a reduced sentence.



George "Nick" Kirk, was a bailiff at the courthouse on the day of Gardner's botched escape. Shot and wounded in the lower abdomen, he suffered chronic health problems for the rest of his life.



Mr Kirk's daughter, Tami Stewart, said before Gardner's execution that she believed his death would bring her family some closure.



"I think, at that moment, he will feel that fear that his victims felt," she said.



At his commutation hearing, Gardner shed a tear after telling the board his attempts to apologise to the Otterstroms and Kirks had been unsuccessful. He said he hoped for forgiveness.



"If someone hates me for 20 years, it's going to affect them," Gardner said. "I know killing me is going to hurt them just as bad. It's something you have to live with every day. You can't get away from it. I've been on the other side of the gun. I know."

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Training Programme Manager (Learning and Development)-London

£28000 - £32000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manage...

Training/Learning and Development Coordinator -London

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Training/Learning and Development Co...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor