SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is set to execute a convicted killer by firing squad after a judge agreed Friday to the inmate’s request, renewing a debate over what critics see as an antiquated, Old West-style of justice.
Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, 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 method of execution that harkens back to Utah’s territorial history.
“I would like the firing squad, please,” Gardner told state court Judge Robin Reese after hearing his avenues for appeal appear to be exhausted.
Gardner, 49, was sentenced to death for killing an attorney 25 years ago during a failed escape attempt and shootout.
Defense attorney Andrew Parnes said he plans to quickly seek a stay of execution and appeal Reese’s ruling to the Utah Supreme Court.
It’s unclear if a stay would be granted, but an appeal, once received, would be promptly reviewed because of the nature of the case, Utah State Courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said.
Gardner would be Utah’s first execution since 1999 and the third man to be killed by a firing squad in the state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976: Gary Gilmore on Jan. 17, 1977 – after famously uttering the last words, “Let’s do it,” and John Albert Taylor on Jan. 26, 1996.
Of the 35 states with the death penalty on the books, Utah is the only one to still use the firing squad as a method of execution.