Firing squad execution in Utah sobering

DRAPER, Utah — The explosive reports sent a volley of .30-caliber bullets from the five marksmen into the chest of Ronnie Lee Gardner.

I was expecting to flinch but didn't as I watched his execution from the witness room.

It was so quick that for a split-second I wondered if it had actually happened.

There was no blood splattered across the wall at the Utah State Prison. No audible sounds from the condemned. I couldn't see his eyes. I never saw the guns and didn't hear the countdown to the trigger-pull.

A twice-convicted killer who had a troubled upbringing, Gardner, 49, was executed by firing squad early Friday. I was one of nine journalists selected to observe his death. When the warden pulled back the beige curtain, Gardner was already strapped into a black, straight-backed metal chair. His head was secured by a strap across his forehead. Harness-like straps constrained his chest. His handcuffed arms hung at his sides. A white cloth square — maybe 3 inches across — affixed to his chest over his heart bore a black target.

When the bullets pierced Gardner's chest, he clenched his fist. His arm pulled up slowly and released. The motion repeated. The silence was deafening.

A medical examiner checked Gardner's pulse on his neck, then lifted the hood to check his pupils with a flashlight, offering a brief glimpse of his now ashen face. It was 12:17 a.m. Only two minutes had passed since the shots were fired.

Gardner was the third man to die by firing squad since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Unlike Gary Gilmore, who famously said "Let's do it" before he was shot on Jan. 17, 1977, Gardner offered few words. Asked if he had anything to say before a black hood was fastened over his head, he said simply, "I do not, no."

Execution order gets on Twitter

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is defending his use of Twitter to tell the world about his execution order. Shurtleff's post said: "I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Ronnie Lee Gardner's execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims." Shurtleff's tweet shortly before Gardner was shot to death Friday morning drew criticism from other Twitter users and on comment boards from those who found his use of the microblogging site distasteful. Shurtleff has more than 7,000 followers.

Firing squad execution in Utah sobering 06/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 12:02am]

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