American killer last to die by firing squad in Utah
June 16, 2010 11:08AM
WASHINGTON: Ronnie Lee Gardner did not hesitate when the judge called for him to give his decision. "I would like the firing squad please," he told the courtroom.
And so at a minute past midnight on Friday, barring successful appeals before the Utah and US courts, Gardner will get his wish, becoming - almost certainly - the last person to die before a firing squad in the US. Utah, where Gardner is on death row, is the last state in America to carry out execution by firing squad.
The method was outlawed in 2004 but Gardner, sentenced to death for two murders 25 years ago, was granted an exemption to allow him to die by a method legally permitted at the time he committed his crimes.
He will be only the third man in Utah to die by firing squad since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 and his choice is likely to reignite the debate over capital punishment.
Death by firing squad in the US is so rare that the only insights into the process are to be found in photographs of the Utah death chamber and the accounts of the men who carried out the last such execution in 1996 - that of John Albert Taylor, who sexually molested and strangled an 11-year-old girl with a telephone cord.
The photographs show a very different scene to that of movies where a blindfolded man tied to a stake is shot at range by unshielded sharpshooters.
At one end of the chamber a seat, similar to the electric chair, is placed in front of a bulletproof shield. On the arms are straps to restrain the prisoner. Below the seat is a metal pan to catch the blood. Around the chair are piles of sandbags to absorb any bullet that might go astray.
The squad of five police officers is shielded from the prisoner's view by a panel with two narrow slots through which their rifles are fired. On a third wall is the observation window through which prison officials, official witnesses and any relatives of the victims who choose to attend will watch the execution.
The identity of the men who served on Taylor's firing squad are still unknown but several have spoken anonymously about their memories of that night. Their selection for the task was straightforward: one officer was approached and asked to pick the others for the job. In Gardner's case they will volunteer and then be selected by a lottery system.
Officers involved in the last execution told the Salt Lake Tribune that the squad practised in a replica death chamber at the prison, learning to co-ordinate their gunshots so that they would be heard in unison. On the night of the execution they took their places in the gun room and loaded their Winchester Model 94 hunting rifles - the favoured weapon of cowboys.
Four of the firearms had live rounds and a fifth was loaded with a wax bullet providing identical recoil so that no man would ever know whether he had fired a lethal shot - insurance against remorse.
Everyone fired. The target pinned to Taylor's chest flew off. "My first thought was, 'Holy s***, we missed'," one of the officers said. "From my vantage point there was absolutely no reaction from Taylor."
Their feelings were mixed. Shooting Taylor was like "returning a defective product to the manufacturer," one said. "Let Him fix it."
Another of the officers said: "I had issues about shooting a guy strapped in a seat, helpless. 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."American killer last to die by firing squad in Utah | The Australian
If the State is going to execute, would seem like a whole lot more uh, unequivocal
way to kill someone than electric chair/lethal injection methods, which so I've heared, have stuffed up at times.