Copyright 2010 by William A. Mays, Proprietor
Ronnie Lee Gardner was convicted of a robbery in 1980 and duly sent to serve his sentence at Utah State Prison. Problem was Gardner had other plans. Describing himself as "obsessed with escape," he faked an illness and brutally achieved his goal at University of Utah Hospital on August 6, 1984, leaving a guard severely beaten. Two months later, on October 9, 1984, he shot Salt lake City bartender Melvyn Otterstrom in the face during another robbery attempt and left him to die. Otterstrom was not found until his own wife made the dreadful discovery the next day. Captured again, Gardner was put on trial for the Otterstrom murder, and, on April 2, 1985, again escaped. This time from the very courtroom where his fate–not the fates of potential victims–was supposed to have been decided. He severely wounded a bailiff and shot and killed Michael Burdell–one of his own defense attorneys. Shortly following this display of a lack of confidence in his defense team, Gardner was captured one more time. And this time Utah officials decided to pay a little closer attention. They managed to keep Gardner in custody for the next 25 years, until the state was able to exact its revenge the old fashioned way, with four high-caliber bullets ripping apart his heart.
The irony was not lost on the family of Michael Burdell, the murdered attorney. The government of Utah killed Ronnie Lee Gardner for the crime of killing the man who was trying to keep him away from the death penalty. The family opposed Gardner's execution. But in the legal-revenge game, being what it is–coming with the guilt-free imprimatur of the highest courts in the land–it's a wonder everyone doesn't want to go work in the prosecutorial offices throughout the country. The public supported it, and the die was cast.
On Tuesday evening, June 15th, Ronnie Lee Gardner ate his final meal. It was a plain yet hearty cuisine consisting of steak, lobster, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7-Up. Gardner chose to say no final words, so his choice of 7-Up over Sprite will have to stand as his most profound statement prior to execution. Then the condemned voluntarily began a 48-hour fast, reportedly for religious reasons. But in truth, who wants to have something in there ready to come out when you know you're less than sixty seconds from being violently ripped from all you've known and thrown into the ultimate darkness?
On Wednesday, Gardner bade his final farewells to his brother and daughter, while on Thursday, his obviously brave new defense lawyers made their final attempts to save his life. But it was no use. Governor Gary Herbert rejected their appeal. Meanwhile, in Denver, a federal court rejected another appeal, which then went immediately to the Supreme Court. But the justices rejected it as well, and the way was clear for Utah officials to proceed.
Gardner spent his last day reading the novel Divine Justice by David Baldacci and watching all three "Lord of the Rings" movies. One supposes if he'd also asked for the entire "Star Wars" series, as well as the film version of War and Peace, he'd still be alive today, pleading with his jailers to just wait until he finds out who wins the Battle of Austerlitz. But such was not the case. Midnight struck, and Thursday turned relentlessly into Friday. It was time for Ronnie Lee Gardner to take his final walk.
He was strapped into a sturdy, black metal chair built for the occasion, which included a strap across his forehead to keep his head perfectly stationary. A three-inch square white piece of cloth with a black circle drawn on it was placed over Gardner's heart. A prison employee counted down, Gardner's thumb twitched, and five riflemen fired a total of four .30-caliber bullets toward the black circle. He clenched his fist, tried to raise his handcuffed arm, lowered it and tried to raise it again. Then, as his dark-blue jumpsuit began soaking with blood, nothing. At 12:17am on Friday, June 18th, two minutes after the loud reports of the rifles, the medical examiner, after checking for Gardner's pulse on both sides of his neck and shining a flashlight in his eyes, declared him dead.
The internet was all atwitter as Utah's state attorney general Mark Shurtleff became the first to make play-by-play announcements of an execution using Twitter. His last tweet before the bullets flew was "I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner's execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims." And with that, Twitter entered a new, less innocent age.
Gardner's execution by firing squad–the method of his own selection–is likely to be the last in the United States. Utah has changed its law to remove death by bullet as an option. The last state with a shot at the option is Oklahoma, though only if lethal injection and electrocution are found unconstitutional. The chances of the Supreme Court finding lethal injection and electrocution, but not firing squad, unconstitutional are so astronomical the odds would not fit in the Police Gazette Line. So it appears Ronnie Lee Gardner may have had his place in history in mind when he chose the manner of arriving at his final destiny.
June 21, 2010
|The Utah Firing-Squad Execution
|Ronnie Lee Gardner Likely Last Ever To Be
Dispatched in This Manner
|Attorney General Uses Twitter To
Report Details as They Happen
The death chair is shown, at left, prior to the execution of Gardner, and, at right, after, with bullet holes clearly showing in the wood behind the chair.