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June 9, 2010

Utah getting ready for an "old school" execution

The AP has this lengthy new piece about a high-profile upcoming execution in Utah. The piece is headlined "At inmate's request, Utah prepares firing squad," and here is how it begins:

Barring a last-minute reprieve, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be strapped into a chair, a hood will be placed over his head and a small white target will be pinned over his heart. The order will come: "Ready, aim..."

The 49-year-old convicted killer will be executed by a team of five anonymous marksmen firing with a matched set of .30-caliber rifles. He is to be the third person executed by firing squad in Utah - or anywhere else in the U.S. - since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Utah was a long holdout in keeping the method, which it has used in 40 of its 49 executions in the last 160 years. Utah lawmakers made lethal injection the default method of execution in 2004, but inmates condemned before then can still choose the firing squad. That's what Gardner did in April, politely telling a judge, "I would like the firing squad, please." Neither he nor his attorneys have said why.

Critics decry the firing squad as a barbaric method that should have been relegated to the dustbin of the frontier era. "The firing squad is archaic, it's violent, and it simply expands on the violence that we already experience from guns as a society," Bishop John C. Wester, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said during an April protest. The diocese is part of a new coalition pushing for alternatives to capital punishment in Utah.

Even some death-penalty supporters would prefer not to see the method used. State Rep. Sheryl Allen, a Republican from Bountiful who pushed for the switch to lethal injection, said she's not happy to see the reprise of the firing squad because it shifts attention away from the victim to the convicted killer.

June 9, 2010 at 10:19 AM | Permalink


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Talking about "old school" executions, you might still have time to listen to the BBC World Service broadcast about the execution by electric chair of Willie McGee. Click on my name for the website link. The broadcast is available until Sunday. For those who don't know:

"In 1945, an all-white jury in America took two and a half minutes to find a black man named Willie McGee guilty of raping a white woman. Over the next six years, the case wound through three trials, and sparked international protests and appeals from William Faulkner, Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, and even Albert Einstein. Willie McGee was defended by a young Bella Abzug: attorney, activist, and eventually the first Jewish woman in the United States Congress. But on the night of 7 May 1951, he was put to death in Mississippi’s traveling electric chair – the only one of its kind in the US. A local radio station broadcast his execution live from the steps of the courthouse. A newly discovered recording of that newscast provides a chilling glimpse into a lost episode of history."
How far has the US moved on since that day?

Posted by: peter | Jun 9, 2010 12:18:48 PM

But peter, Gardner chose the firing squad; Willie McGee did not chose the traveling electric chair. To say that Utah is being barbaric for following Gardner's own request is a little...what's the word...disingenuous, don't you think?

It's not the method that you care about, it's the mere fact that Gardner is being executed. Just come out and say it.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jun 9, 2010 12:50:23 PM

Res ipsa
I frequently DO say it, and I am very happy to repeat it for your benefit. In fact, if you want to hear me saying it, you can do so by clicking on the video you will find at the website linked by my name. The quality of the recording isn't all that I might have wished ... but the message is surely there.

Posted by: peter | Jun 9, 2010 1:11:41 PM

peter --

"How far has the US moved on since that day?"

To having a black man as President -- the wrong black man, admittedly, but there you have it.

BTW, who certified you to sit in judgment on the United States?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 9, 2010 2:13:13 PM

"BTW, who certified you to sit in judgment on the United States?"

THe Constitution. By virtue of his presence in the U.S.A., he enjoys that certification.

Posted by: Jay | Jun 9, 2010 2:23:34 PM

Well, for one thing, you can't be executed for rape (even of children) any more.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 9, 2010 3:28:52 PM

Jay --

He's not present in the USA, not that it makes any difference, since I was asking for more more of a qualification than that he has free speech.

BTW, do you agree with peter that the United States is a morally backward nation?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 10, 2010 6:22:27 PM

I don't see why there's so much fuss over the firing squad. Its a ton cheaper than injecting the guy with expensive chemicals. He asked for it anyway. How could you refuse a dying man's last request? The gun nazis in washington are gonna have a cow about this i'm sure. Too bad though, they can't do a thing about it - death by firing squad, thats how we roll in Utah.

www.cachefirearms.com -- FB Cache Firearms

Posted by: Tyler | Jun 11, 2010 7:55:55 PM

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