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USA > Law, Justice >


Death Penalty > Executions > Firing squad




Utah Executes Murderer

by Firing Squad


June 18, 2010

The New York Times



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 punishment.

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 time comes.

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 death.

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,






Ethics Dilemma for Lawyers

When Inmates Seek Death


November 19, 2008
Filed at 2:42 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LOUISVILLE, 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 executions.

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 do.'''

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 level.

''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,
us/AP-Suicide-By-Court.html - broken link







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