Convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was executed early Friday by a firing squad at the Utah State Prison in Draper.
When asked by the Warden whether he had any last words, Gardner replied, “I do not, no.”
Gardner was hooded and strapped tightly to a chair with a paper target pinned over his heart. The five-person firing squad stood behind a door about 20 feet away, armed with .30-caliber rifles and open fired through two narrow windows.
Two minutes after the bullets were fired, Gardner was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m. Witnesses said that Gardner moved slightly following the shots.
“He did things bad in the past, but now realizes what he did and he changed the last couple of years,” said Darian Gardner, the convicted killer’s granddaughter, through tears. “I got to know him the last couple of years. It sucks when you have to say goodbye to someone that is like your best friend.”
Gardner’s attorneys made numerous attempts in recent weeks to halt the execution; however, no local, state, or federal court was willing to interfere.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole held a two-day commutation hearing last week, during which Gardner tried to persuade the panel that he was a changed man. But the five-member board announced Monday that it had denied Gardner’s request to commute his death sentence to life in prison without parole.
The defense argued that Gardner had a troubled childhood and should have been able to present crucial mitigating evidence at his original sentencing hearing–evidence that may have prompted jurors to give Gardner a life sentence.
Andrew Parnes, lead defense attorney, made similar arguments in front of the Utah Supreme Court. He said that executing his client after 25 years on death row was a violation of his due process rights and constituted cruel and unusual punishment. But the High Court didn’t agree, ruling that those arguments should have been made years ago.
“Throughout the lengthy course of this case, multiple courts, including this one, have endeavored to scrupulously ensure that Mr. Gardner’s rights are protected,” wrote Associate Chief Justice Matthew Durrant. “We are firmly convinced that he has been treated justly and fairly.”
Gardner found no relief in Third District Court Robin Reese’s courtroom either. Reese denied requests for a stay of execution and a new sentencing hearing. He signed the death warrant on April 23, after finding that the appeals process had been exhausted. The judge ruled that he couldn’t find a legal reason to not sign the warrant.
Gardner was sentenced to death in 1985 for shooting and killing Michael Burdell during a botched courthouse escape. Gardner had been in court that day facing charges for killing Melvyn J. Otterstrom, when an accomplice handed him a gun. He then shot and wounded bailiff Nick Kirk before turning the gun on Burdell.
Gardner was surrounded by prison officials and members of the media; however, his attorneys and family members chose not to attend the execution.
Watch Ronnie Lee Gardner’s brother and granddaughter talk about the execution in the video below.
To view photographs of Gardner’s commutation hearing, click here.
Source: CNN news
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