Ronald Lee Gardner faces execution on June 18 in Utah. The media has zeroed in on the fact that he has chosen the firing squad as his method of execution – which seems kind of hard core and old school given the lengths states have gone through to try to make executions appear “humane”. Gardner’s exact words to judge were: “I would like the firing squad, please.”
Utah’s firing squad carried out the first execution of the so-called “modern” era of US capital punishment, when Gary Gilmore was shot in January 1977, six months after the US Supreme Court allowed executions to restart under new death penalty statutes. Another prisoner, John Albert Taylor, was put to death by a Utah firing squad in 1996.
But more important than Ronald Lee Gardner’s peculiar choice is the fact that the family and friends of his victim are opposed to his execution. Gardner killed Michael Burdell, a defense attorney, during a 1985 courtroom escape attempt, but Burdell’s father, his girlfriend, and another friend all plan to testify on Gardner’s behalf if Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole agrees to hold a clemency hearing.
State officials often claim that their support for the death penalty and executions is in part to honor the wishes and needs of victims’ families. Will the state of Utah honor the wishes of this victim’s family and refrain from executing Ronald Lee Gardner?