Thursday, June 17, 2010

Utah Executes Ronnie Gardner By Firing Squad Shortly After Midnight On June 18th, 2010; Gardner Pronounced Dead At 12:17 A.M.

Update June 18th: Post updated with some additional media links, primarily to witness statements.

It's official; the state of Utah executed Ronnie Gardner by firing squad on June 18th, 2010. At 12:15 A.M., five anonymous executioners raised their rifles and fired from behind curtains and a ported brick wall. One rifle held a blank round, leaving room for doubt in the minds of the marksmen. Gardner was formally pronounced dead at 12:17 A.M. He died strapped in a chair, a hood over his head and a white target on his heart. A timeline describing Gardner's last day of life is available HERE. Several reporters were allowed to witness the execution:

-- Witness statement from KSL Newsradio's Sheryl Worsley HERE.
-- Witness account from KSL TV News' Sandra Yi HERE.
-- Witness account from AP's Jennifer Dobner HERE.
-- Witness statement from Salt Lake Tribune's Nate Carlisle HERE.

Gardner chose to die by firing squad rather than lethal injection for killing attorney Michael Burdell during a 1985 courthouse escape attempt. He was in court for the murder of Melvyn Otterstrom during a robbery. On his way out of the courthouse, Gardner also shot and wounded deputy Nick Kirk, who died years later. Kirk's widow believes the gunshot wounds eventually killed her husband. Even though Utah adopted lethal injection as the default execution method in 2004, Gardner was still allowed to choose the firing squad option because he was sentenced before the law changed.

Media stories:

-- "Ronnie Lee Gardner executed by firing squad", Deseret News
-- "Gardner executed", Salt Lake Tribune
-- "Ronnie Lee Gardner executed by firing squad", KSL Channel 5
-- "Ronnie Lee Gardner executed by firing squad", KSTU Channel 13
-- "Ronnie Lee Gardner executed by firing squad", KTVX Channel 4
-- "Utah firing squad executes convicted killer", KUTV Channel 2

KSL news video:

Video Courtesy of

KSTU news video:


Reaction: Barb Webb, daughter of Gardner victim Nick Kirk, sobbed when news of the execution came. "I'm so relieved it's all over," she said, hugging her daughter, Mandi Hull. "I just hope my sister, who just passed away, and my father, and all of the other victims are waiting for his sorry ass. I hope they get to go down after him." Meanwhile, Gardner's family members leaned against each other in a tight cluster and sobbed. They played Lynyrd's Skynyrd's "Free Bird," singing along. "I'm just glad it's over. I'm glad he's free," said Randy Gardner after his brother's death. Other Gardner relatives whooped and cheered as they released 24 balloons decorated with messages. "I love you, Ron!" some of them screamed, falling into each other's arms. Gardner's daughter, Brandie Gardner, put her hands to her face and sobbed.

Because questions have arisen about a connection between death by firing squad and Utah's historical legacy of "blood atonement", which was sporadically preached and marginally enforced without official LDS Church sanction during Utah's territorial days, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement about blood atonement on Wednesday June 17th:

In the mid-19th century, when rhetorical, emotional oratory was common, some church members and leaders used strong language that included notions of people making restitution for their sins by giving up their own lives.

However, so-called "blood atonement," by which individuals would be required to shed their own blood to pay for their sins, is not a doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We believe in and teach the infinite and all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes forgiveness of sin and salvation possible for all people.

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