Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Utah Execution by Firing Squad Set for Friday

Ronnie Lee Gardner is scheduled for execution this Friday, June 18th, in Utah. If executions scheduled in Texas and Oklahoma are carried out this week, Gardner will be the 28th person executed in the United States this year. At that pace, there will be a more than 10-percent increase in executions over 2009.

Why would Gardner's execution be any more noteworthy than other executions this year?

Gardner has requested execution by firing squad. Thirty-five states have the death penalty. Utah is the only state to use the firing squad in the modern era of the death penalty. Oklahoma is the only other state where the firing squad is an option. Lethal injection is used in nearly all states, although Virginia executed a convicted murderer by electric chair this year.

Two men have died by firing squad in Utah since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Gary Gilmore, on Jan. 17, 1977 and John Albert Taylor on Jan. 26, 1996.

Recently, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole denied Gardner's request for commutation, and the Utah Supreme Court late Monday turned down his request that his sentence be reduced to life imprisonment or that he be granted a new sentencing hearing. There will no doubt be a last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gardner is far from a sympathetic figure. In 1985, he murdered his lawyer during an attempted escape from the Salt Lake City Courthouse. He was there for a hearing on his prior murder conviction. His girlfriend slipped him a handgun while he was being escorted to the courthouse.

Some have suggested that the use of execution by firing squad exposes the barbaric nature of the death penalty. However, it doesn't appear that support for the death penalty is waning. A recent CBS News poll shows 63% of Americans favor the death penalty, a number that’s remained fairly consistent over the past 20 years. The number of executions thsi year is on track to increase for the second year in a row.

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