Utah murderer Gardner chooses death by firing squad

April 26th, 2010 by

http://www.cbc.ca — A convicted killer in Utah has chosen to be executed by firing squad instead of lethal injection, renewing a debate over what critics see as an antiquated, Old West-style of justice.

Gardner, 49, is scheduled for execution on June 18.

Under state law, Gardner was given the choice of being killed by lethal injection or shot by a five-man team of executioners firing from a set of matched rifles, a rarely used form of execution that harkens back to the 19th century when Utah was its own territory.

After Reese said Gardner’s avenues for appeal are exhausted and that he would sign the warrant, Gardner told the judge: “I would like the firing squad, please.”

Defence attorneys on Friday argued against signing the death warrant, saying a jury never heard mitigating evidence in the case that could have led it to decide against the death penalty and that to execute Gardner after so many years is cruel and unusual punishment.

They also asked Reese not to sign the warrant and to instead convert the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A stay of the execution could still be sought. Gardner could also ask the state’s Board of Pardons and Parole to commute his sentence.

Gardner’s attorney, Andrew Parnes, said an appeal is planned, but it was not immediately clear what type of appeal it would be.

Utah unique

Gardner is one of at least four of 10 men on Utah’s death row who have said they want to die by firing squad.

Of the 35 states with the death penalty on the books, Utah is the only one to use the firing squad as a method of execution since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Only two men have been executed this way since then: Gary Gilmore, on Jan. 17, 1977, and John Albert Taylor on Jan. 26, 1996.

Utah’s death row inmates were for decades allowed to choose how they wanted to die. State lawmakers removed that choice in 2004 and made lethal injection the default method, though inmates sentenced before then still have a choice.

Gardner was convicted of the fatal shooting death of Utah defence attorney Michael J. Burdell during an escape attempt and shootout at the old Metropolitan Hall of Justice in downtown Salt Lake City on April 2, 1985. He was in court on charges related to the 1984 fatal shooting of a Salt Lake City bartender, for which he was later convicted.

Although he was handcuffed and surrounded by prison guards, a female acquaintance slipped Gardner a loaded, long-barreled .22-calibre handgun in the basement of the building just before the shooting.

He shot Burdell in the head, wounded a court bailiff and was himself shot in the right shoulder before being captured on the courthouse lawn as he tried to flee.

Burdell’s acquaintances and family have said he was a peaceful man who opposed the death penalty and would not have wanted Gardner to be put to death.

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