After 25 years on death row, twice-convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner has been executed by firing squad in Utah. Five marksmen shot the 49-year-old in the first execution of its kind in the US for 14 years.
Gardner chose the firing squad as his means of execution before it was banned by the state. He was sentenced to death for shooting a lawyer while trying to escape from a court appearance on another murder charge.
Craig Watson, a cousin of Gardner’s first victim, witnessed the execution and said afterwards: “They put the hood on his head and we waited for just a few minutes and you heard the gunshots go off and then you saw that he had quit breathing. He died. It was a lot more humane than what he did to Melvyn.”
Melvyn Otterstrom was the bartender killed by Gardner in 1984. Gardner shot dead lawyer Michael Burdell the following year in court in Salt Lake City. His supporters said he had been abused as a child and suffered from mental illness.
“I just don’t agree with the death penalty,” said Randy Gardner, the executed man’s brother. “I just think they committed a murder just like he did. Two wrongs don’t make a right and, you know, I’m probably going to fight to abolish the death penalty. I haven’t believed in it even before Ronnie and I certainly don’t now.”
Opponents of the death penalty – some of whom held a vigil outside the courthouse – described the execution as “barbaric.” But Utah’s attorney general said the state was committed to seeing that murderers faced justice.