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Ready, Aim, Shoot

Ronnie Lee Gardner, a death row inmate in Utah was executed before a firing squad in Utah on Friday morning, June 18, 2010. This was the first time Utah had used a firing squad to carry out a death sentence on a prisoner in 14 years.

There were five executioners. They all were police officers who had volunteered for the task. The officers who shall remain anonymous stood 25 feet away behind a wall cut open with a gun port. Each of them were armed with matching 30 caliber Winchester rifles. One rifle was loaded with a blank. None of the officers knew who fired the fatal shot. There were sand bags stacked behind Ronnie Lee Gardner’s chair. These sand bags prevented the bullets from ricocheting.

At 12 a.m., there was a countdown. The cadence went “5-4-3-2-1.” At the end of the cadence the shooters fired their Winchester rifles.

When Gardner was hit with the bullets his arm tensed and jerked back. Two minutes after he was shot blood was pouring out of his blue jumpsuit. At 12:17 the medical examiner checked Gardner for vital signs. There were none. He was pronounced dead.

Representatives of the media and witnesses for the victim were present for the execution.

In 1985 Gardner was convicted of murder. He fatally shot attorney, Michael Burdell, during an attempted escape. The shooting took place at the Salt Lake City Court House. Gardner was to stand trial for the murder concerning the shooting of a bartender, Melvin Ottersterom. A gun was smuggled to him and he shot Burdell in the face in the court house. In March of 2010, the United States Supreme Court rejected a request for a stay of execution made by an attorney on behalf of Gardner to take the case.

Firing squads are the predominant from of capital punishment in Utah.

Historians have suggested that Utah’s is basis for using firing squads relates to the Church Of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints believing in the concept of “blood atonement.”

Only through the spilling of one’s own blood could a condemned person atone for their crimes and be redeemed in the next life. The Church Of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints no longer preaches the said teachings.

The American Civil Liberties Union called Gardners execution “barbaric, arbitrary, and a bankrupting practice of capital punishment.” Burdell’s family opposes capital punishment and asked that Gardner’s life be saved. Query: Did the firing squad’s action provide justice for the victim?

Societies are often judged by how their legal systems function. Does murdering a murderer serve society’s best interest?

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