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Utah Executes Murderer
by Firing Squad
June 18, 2010
The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
DENVER — A five-member firing squad at the Utah State Prison took aim and
fired .30-caliber bullets at a target pinned on the chest of Ronnie Lee Gardner,
a convicted murderer, just after midnight on Friday. He was pronounced dead at
12:20 a.m. Mountain Time, after almost 25 years on death row, and several months
as the center of international attention focused not so much on crime as his
It was the third firing squad execution in Utah — the only state actively
practicing that form of punishment — since 1976, when the death penalty was
restored by the United States Supreme Court.
“The execution warrant for Mr. Gardner has been served,” The Utah Department of
Corrections said in statement.
Mr. Gardner, 49, was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to death for murdering a
man in a botched courthouse escape attempt. Last minute appeals on Thursday
filed by his lawyers with the United States Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit
Court of Appeals in Denver and Governor Gary R. Herbert were all rejected.
“Mr. Gardner has had a full and fair opportunity to have his case considered by
numerous tribunals,” said Mr. Herbert, a Republican, in a letter refusing to
stay the execution. “Upon careful review, there is nothing in the materials
provided this morning that has not already been considered and decided.”
In the 1985 courthouse escape attempt and shootout — during a hearing about an
earlier murder committed by Mr. Gardner at a Salt Lake City bar — he killed an
attorney, Michael Burdell, and wounded a court bailiff. The family members of
those victims, testifying at a hearing earlier this month before the Utah Board
of Pardons and Parole, were divided on the question of punishment, with some
favoring execution and some pleading that the defendant’s life be spared.
Mr. Gardner’s attorneys also argued that jurors in the case voted for the death
penalty without hearing adequate testimony about the years of abuse he had
suffered as a child.
But a member of Mr. Gardner’s legal team, Dale A. Baich, said in a telephone
interview a few hours before the execution that Mr. Gardner appeared to have
accepted his fate.
“He’s comfortable and he’s at peace,” Mr. Baich said.
Only Utah, of the 35 states that impose the death penalty, still has death by
shooting as an option, and then only for some. In 2004, the state legislature
changed the penal code, mandating all executions thereafter by lethal injection.
A person convicted of a capital crime who received his or her death sentence
before the legal change took effect, however, can still choose between lethal
injection and the firing squad.
Four other death row inmates, grandfathered in under the old law as Mr. Gardner
was, have indicated that they may take the firing squad option if and when their
The last firing squad execution here was in 1996, when John Albert Taylor,
convicted of raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl, was put to death. Mr.
Gardner chose the firing squad as his means of execution, over lethal injection,
in a hearing in April.
The only other state with a firing squad option in its penal code is Oklahoma,
which would allow shooting of condemned prisoners only if lethal injection and
electrocution are found unconstitutional.
Executions are not common in Utah. Mr. Gardner was only the seventh person put
to death since 1976, compared to more than 450 in Texas. But in executions per
capita — measured against Utah’s much smaller population — the state ranked 19th
highest in the nation, according to calculations last year by the Death Penalty
Information Center, an anti-capital punishment group. Mr. Gardner ate his last
meal on Tuesday, prison officials said, having decided to fast prior to his
The meal included steak, lobster tail, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7-Up,
all prepared and served at the Utah State Prison, where the execution took
place, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. After being moved to an
observation cell on Wednesday night, Mr. Gardner spent his time sleeping,
reading and watching the “Lord of The Rings” trilogy, the Utah Department of
Corrections said on its Web site.
Utah Executes Murderer
by Firing Squad,
Dilemma for Lawyers
When Inmates Seek Death
Filed at 2:42 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ky. (AP) -- John Delaney faced the toughest moment of his legal career -- his
condemned client wanted to drop his appeals and die by injection, an act Delaney
opposed and had been trained to try to prevent.
''What do you say?'' asked Delaney, a public defender in northern Kentucky who
represented Marco Allen Chapman.
It's a question that has arisen 131 times since states resumed executions in
1977, and each time it leaves defense lawyers struggling against their training
to act in the best interest of their clients and justice.
''We're trained as lawyers to be an advocate for someone and fight as hard as we
can,'' said Stephen Harris, a University of Baltimore law professor who
represented execution volunteer John Thanos in Maryland in 1994. ''Here's
someone who says, 'I don't want you,' then, 'I want to die.'''
The first volunteer after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in
1976 was Gary Mark Gilmore, put to death a year later by a firing squad in Utah
for killing a gas station attendant. The 128 men and two women who have followed
suit often gave similar reasons -- mainly remorse, a desire for atonement and
not wanting to spend their lives in prison -- according to the Death Penalty
Information Center, an anti-capital punishment group that compiles statistics on
About 12 percent of the 1,133 inmates executed in the U.S. since 1977 abandoned
their appeals and asked for their sentences to be carried out, said Richard
Dieter, executive director of the center and a law professor at Catholic
University in Washington. Each time, the inmate either fired the defense lawyer
or told them to stop filing appeals.
''It amounts to the same thing,'' Dieter said.
Attorneys are required to follow the client's wishes or have themselves removed
from the case, said Michael Mello, a Vermont Law School professor who teaches
ethics and death penalty law.
''Their hands are pretty well tied,'' Mello said. ''These are the cases that
haunt you. This is the most hideous of cases.''
That's how Gus Cahill felt when his client, Keith Eugene Wells, told him he
wanted to die. Wells was convicted of beating a couple to death in 1990 in
Idaho. He went through the mandatory appeals, then decided to waive any
remaining legal options and was lethally injected in 1994.
''I really liked Keith,'' said Cahill, a public defender in Boise. ''You're just
thinking, 'Oh, my God, I feel so sorry for being part of what Keith wanted to
Harris, who opted not to try to talk Thanos into sticking with his appeals, said
cases of death penalty volunteers always come with second thoughts, but knowing
that a client went willingly to his execution is something attorneys just have
to come to grips with.
''I don't know what was in his mind,'' he said. ''You always have regrets about
that stuff. But I think I made the right decision.''
Chapman, 36, is to die Friday at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville
for killing a 7-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother six years ago in a
crack cocaine-fueled attack on a family for whom he'd worked as a handyman.
Delaney, 49, was assigned the case in 2004, and Chapman quickly made it clear
that he didn't want a defense and didn't want his life spared. Chapman said at
several court hearings and in letters to judges that he wanted to plead guilty
and be sentenced to death.
To Delaney, Chapman's reasoning for dropping his appeals made sense on some
''Marc wanted to try to make amends to the family,'' Delaney said.
That didn't make it easy to step out of the way of Chapman's execution. Delaney
repeatedly tried to get the inmate to at least let a jury determine what
sentence to impose. He refused.
Delaney told Chapman to fire him before pleading guilty.
''I wasn't going to help him,'' Delaney said. ''He wasn't in left field for what
he wants, though.''
A judge granted Chapman's request to dismiss Delaney and appointed him standby
counsel in case Chapman changed his mind.
Delaney tells himself he did everything possible for his reluctant client.
If the execution goes through as scheduled Friday night, he said, he'll be
having a drink and tell himself that at least one more time.
Ethics Dilemma for Lawyers When Inmates Seek Death,
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