Utah Firing Squad Executes Convicted Killer

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Just after midnight Friday, Utah carried out the first execution by firing squad since 1996.

Five marksmen carried out the death sentence against twice-convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner at the Utah State Prison.

Gardner was shot while strapped into a black, straight-backed metal chair.

He was sentenced to death for a 1985 capital murder conviction stemming from the fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during a failed escape attempt. Gardner was at the Salt Lake City court facing a 1984 murder charge in the shooting death of a bartender, Melvyn Otterstrom.

Click play for an update on this story with CBN News Reporter Efrem Graham.

"What caught my attention was that it was so sudden," said Marcos Ortiz, a Salt Lake KTVX reporter who witnessed the execution. "We didn't get a count down."

The five gunmen were given .30 caliber Winchester rifles - one of which was loaded with a blank so they wouldn't know who fired the fatal shot that killed Gardner.

Outside the prison, relatives of the killer and his victims stood vigil.

"I was relieved," Barb Webb, daughter of one of Gardner's victims, said. "I have to say when it came down to it, I was relieved. You know he's gone and I was just relieved."

Still, some have insisted the execution was barbaric and cruel way to kill.

"Clearly there's a possibility of a botched execution of someone missing the heart or the vital organs and someone bleeding to death," Northeastern University's Prof. James Alan Fox said.

Others said alternative methods aren't really better.

"People think lethal injection is more humane because it's related to medicine and doctors and a peaceful way of death, but in reality it is not," Fordham University law professor Deborah Denno said.

Former television reporter Paul Murphy said that while the one firing squad death he witnessed was brutal, "a firing squad is a more honest method of execution because it is what it seems to be - which is a man being put to death for his crimes."

Gardner spent his last day sleeping, reading the novel "divine Justice," watching the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy and meeting with his attorneys and a bishop with the Mormon church. A prison spokesman said officers described his mood as relaxed. He had eaten his last requested meal - steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7UP - two days earlier.

Members of his family gathered outside the prison, some wearing T-shirts displaying his prisoner number, 14873. None planned to witness the execution, at Gardner's request.

"He didn't want nobody to see him get shot," said Gardner's brother, Randy Gardner. "I would have liked to be there for him. I love him to death. He's my little brother."

Gardner chose his execution style although he and his attorneys fought his death-sentence to the very last.

They petitioned the courts claiming the jury heard no mitigating evidence that might have led them to impose a life in prison sentence instead of the death penalty. Gardner's life was marked by early drug addiction, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage,court records show.

At one of the last hearings in his case, Gardner said he'd tried to apologize to the families of his victims and that he "had hoped for forgiveness."

"If someone hates me for 20 years, it's going to affect them," Gardner said. "I know killing me is going to hurt them just as bad. It's something you have to live with every day. You can't get away from it. I've been on the other side of the gun. I know."

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