Friday, June 18, 2010

Gruesome execution of convicted murderer makes the point

U.S. residents, especially those in Utah, probably feel a lot safer today after the firing-squad execution of a convicted killer. Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, had been on death row since 1985, when he shot and killed an attorney during an escape attempt from a Salt Lake City courthouse, where he was on trial for killing a bartender in 1984. It was the third execution by firing squad in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Gardner's execution came hours after his appeal for a stay was denied by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and the U.S. Supreme Court denied his last-minute appeal, according to the Reuters international news service. Herbert does not have the power to commute a death sentence but can issue a temporary stay. Gardner was shot in the chest by a 5-man firing squad and declared dead at 12:20 a.m. at Utah State Prison in Draper, Reuters said. He had been strapped to a metal chair and hooded, and a target was placed over his chest. The execution was witnessed by Jason Otterstrom, the son of the slain bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom, while Gardner's relatives held a vigil outside the prison. Gardner has asked his relatives not to witness the execution, Reuters said. Attorney Michael Burdell was the fatal victim in the courthouse shooting. A bailiff also was shot and recovered, but suffered health problems until his death in 1995. A Salt Lake City bishop called the firing squad execution "barbaric," Reuters said. "If you're going to do the death penalty, lethal injection would be the more human way," said Bishop John Wester of the city's Roman Catholic Diocese. "It emblazons in our consciousness the violence that guns wreck on our lives." But Gardner chose the firing squad himself, under the death penalty rules in effect at the time, Reuters said. Utah no longer offers the firing squad as an option for a condemned person.

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