Monday, November 29, 1999

Convicted Utah killer set to die by firing squad

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A Utah man convicted of two murders was scheduled to die by firing squad early Friday morning, becoming only the third man put to death by that means in the United States since 1976.Ronnie Lee Gardner, who chose the firing squad as his method of execution before it was banned by Utah, is expected to die a few minutes after midnight for killing a lawyer during a bloody 1985 escape attempt.Gardner's last hope rests with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after Utah Governor Gary Herbert on Thursday denied his request for a temporary stay of execution."Upon careful review, there is nothing in the materials provided this morning that has not already been considered and decided by the Board of Pardons and Parole or numerous courts," Herbert said in a written statement released through his office."Mr Gardner has had a full and fair opportunity to have his case considered by numerous tribunals," the governor said.If his petition to the Supreme Court is also denied, Gardner, 49, will be be strapped to a black metal chair and hooded, a target over his chest, and asked for his last words before he is shot to death by a five-man firing squad using .30 caliber rifles.Four of the rifles will be loaded with live bullets and one will carry a blank round, allowing members of the firing squad to retain some doubt over whether or not they fired a fatal round into Gardner's chest.Like all U.S. states where the death penalty is in use, Utah now uses lethal injection as its primary means of putting a condemned man to death. Only Oklahoma still offers the firing squad as an alternative."I find it barbaric," Bishop John C. Wester of The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said in an interview."If you're going to do the death penalty, lethal injection would be the more humane way," Wester said, adding in reference to the firing squad: "It emblazons in our consciousness the violence that guns wreck on our lives," said Wester.Gardner was sentenced to death for the murder of attorney Michael Burrell, whom he shot to death while trying to escape from a courthouse. Gardner had been in court to face a murder charge for the shooting death of bartender Mervyn Otterstrom and was ultimately convicted in that case as well.Otterstrom's son, Jason, will attend the execution, along with other family members."Jason and I will be there," Mervyn Otterstrom's cousin, Craig Watson, told Reuters. "This going to be tough for (Jason Otterstrom). It's going to be tough for everybody."(Writing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Todd Eastham)

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