David Usborne: I was there the last time this grisly execution method was used

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The Independent Online

We saw and heard nothing. Not the blood in the metal pan slotted beneath the death seat, nor the single boom of five rifles going off in choreographed unison. They had allowed reporters into the prison on the night of John Albert Taylor's execution but had no intention of letting us see any of the gore and mess.

That was 14 years ago and even today, as Utah prepares for only its third execution by firing squad since the death penalty was restored in the US in 1976, details of that night are still leaking out thanks to the reminiscences of three of the five members of the voluntary squad.

Although we were inside the Utah State Prison complex in Draper, we were at a safe distance from the death chamber and had no access to anyone directly involved, not the witnesses, members of the squad or the prison staff.

There was suspense. Even in the chamber itself, two telephones sit connected to the offices of the governor and the state attorney general, either of whom had the power to halt the proceedings. They never did.

As the moment of execution approached, we were fed bulletins as matter-of-fact as the minutes of a garden fête. 7.44pm: Taylor asked if he could have his antacid liquid. 7.46pm: Inmate Taylor received his antacid. 8.01pm: Deputy Warden offers Inmate Taylor more soda, pizza, coffee. Taylor declines.

Closer to midnight, they became more poignant. 10pm: Inmate Taylor seems to be in good spirits. Visiting with his attorneys. 10.10pm: constant conversation, sprinkled with frequent laughter. Only occasionally were there hints of anguish. 10.48pm: Taylor is crying, sitting very still with his head bowed.

When it was over, the warden, Hank Galetka, wanted us to know that after travelling through Taylor's torso, the bullets had left a single dent in the back of the seat smaller than a coin. "It went like clockwork," he said, almost boasting. "It went as rehearsed."

As for those who fired the shots, two told the Salt Lake Tribune last week that they slept easy when they got home. Shooting Taylor was like "returning a defective product to the manufacturer", one said. Another betrayed a sliver of uncertainty. "I had issues about shooting a guy strapped in a seat, helpless," he said.

"But the state had ordered us to do this and we had a job to do. I don't regret doing it, but I would never do it again."