Thursday, 17 June 2010


Execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner, convicted of murder, will be the first of its kind in the US in 14 years
    Ronnie Lee Gardner
    Ronnie Lee Gardner has been on death row for 24 years. Photograph: Francisco Kjolseth/AP
    Barring a last-minute reprieve, Ronnie Lee Gardner will tomorrow night be strapped into a chair, hooded and executed with a blast of gunfire from five rifles in the first death by firing squad to take place in the US in 14 years.

    Gardner, 49, will be taken at midnight into a specially designed execution chamber in Utah state prison in Draper, Utah. A target will be placed over his heart, and then in the first minutes of Friday five unidentified law enforcement officers will line up in front of him with .30-calibre rifles. After Gardner is allowed to say his last words, they will be ordered to fire at the target.

    Should the execution go ahead, it will be the first in Utah for over a decade and only the third time since the death penalty was restored in 1976 that a firing squad has been used. Both previous firing squads – the execution of Gary Gilmore in 1977 and that of John Taylor in 1996 – were used in Utah.

    Other than Oklahoma, Utah is the only state in the US where the firing squad is listed as a possible execution method. Prisoners are allowed to choose between it and lethal injection, the cocktail of three drugs preferred by most other death penalty states.
    In April, Gardner told a judge: "I would like the firing squad, please."

    Gardner's death sentence relates to the shooting in 1985 of Michael Burdell, a defence lawyer. Gardner was in court in Salt Lake City, facing trial for murdering a barman called Melvyn Otterstrom, when he tried to escape from the courthouse and in the process shot and killed Burdell. He also shot a bailiff, Nick Kirk, who died from his injuries 10 years later.

    Last week Gardner appeared before a five-member board of pardons to plead for them to commute the sentence.
    He said that he was a changed man and that he wanted to devote his life to helping abused children.

    "I'm really remorseful. I don't want to live for the sake of living. If I can help somebody and be a positive influence, that's what I want," he told the board.

    But the panel noted that he did not make any claim of innocence over the killings, and ruled on Monday that execution was appropriate. The same day the Utah supreme court dismissed an appeal by Gardner's lawyers, who argued that there were mitigating circumstances for his behaviour including drug addiction as a youth, physical and sexual abuse and possible brain damage.

    The lawyers have lodged a further appeal with the highest court in the country, the US supreme court. It is not yet known whether the court will agree to hear the petition.

    The impending execution by firing squad has ignited a fierce debate within Utah about the death penalty in general and this method in particular.

    Protesters will hold a prayer vigil outside Salt Lake City's Catholic cathedral and at the time of the execution on the steps of Utah's state capitol building.

    Campaigners hope that the possibility of a firing squad being used will provoke revulsion in the American public and encourage states to speed up the pace of reform. Some 15 states have already dropped the death penalty and a further 12 are looking at it again.
    The most notorious death by firing squad was that of Gilmore, who chose to be executed, refusing to make any legal attempt to prevent it, and also chose that method of dying. He had committed two murders in Utah.

    The story of his life and death was told in novel form by Norman Mailer in The Execution's Song, published two years after the execution.

    Gilmore was strapped to a chair, and the five executioners were hidden in front of him by a curtain which had holes cut out of it for their rifle barrels.

    Before they pulled the triggers, Gilmore famously exclaimed: "Let's do it!"

    After Gardner is allowed to say his last words, they will be ordered to fire at the target. No business like showbusiness, eh?  We're gonna shoot you to death but we still wanna hear what you've got to say, just as long as it's not a plea for mercy. Fuck me, Jesus, America is hard to find.

    Disappointing, too, that the Guardian closes this report with a retelling of one of Uncle Sam's Myths of Death and Violence, Mr Gilmore's anecdotal DeathCry being the writer's abiding image of choice, shitty writing, worthy of skymadeupnewsandfilth.

    There was a time but it's a long time ago now when the Guardian and its readers would have deplored the state-killing of a man for crimes committed twenty-four years earlier, would have raged at how this imminent dark spectacle demeans all concerned;  now, under the unspeakable wretch, Alan Arsebridger ( paid £500,000 per annum of charitable trust money) it portrays barbarism as though it were a DVD trailer;  the public sector's in-house  journal so busy endorsing ConLib cuts that it cannot hear Decency's howls of outrage.


    jgm2 said...

    Yet again Mr Ishmael we diverge on whether this is appropriate punishment. Aside from the mitigating circumstances of having shot a lawyer which, were it otherwise a burglary or driving charge he was facing would surely be a cause for celebration and clemency we cannot overlook the fact that he murdered a barman and a court official.

    The main pastiche of justice is that he had to wait 24 years to receive it.

    I'm no Jainist, Mr Ishmael. While no doubt this chap has replaced every single cell in his body in the past 24 years and can, with some honesty, claim to be a changed person that is not a defence that any properly run court system would have indulged him 24 years to make.

    Justice delayed is justice denied.

    Enough delay already. Shoot the fucker. Pour encourager les autres.

    And then go after Bush and Blair and Brown.

    Perhaps my outrage is better directed at British courts who, with their squeamishness, think it an appropriate sentence to routinely release common-or-garden murderers 'on licence' after a mere 12 years when my preferred method of retribution would involve if not a short drop or a hollow-point round - to allow for judicial, political and police fit-ups, foul-ups and cover-ups - then 120 years splitting rocks on the Isle of Harris.

    I'm all heart me. Apart from my spleen. All heart and spleen. That's me.

    call me ishmael said...

    The Isle of Harris is a mite extreme, mr jgm2, even for you.

    mongoose said...

    Bread and circuses. It is a freak show, and the daft beggar is even trying to be the grisly star of its Last Act.

    The problem with the death penalty, Mr jgm2, is that the fuckers will fit you up. Fucking DNA? Oh, they won't fiddle that, will they? Oh, no, 'course they won't.

    Anonymous said...

    In the days of global instant communications, it is not necessary for the public to be physically present for the act to be a public execution. So, I would say that mr mongoose has a fair point. I wouldn't argue with his second, either.

    There are interminable arguments about the desirability, or otherwise, of capital punishment: that debate will never end. But can we not agree that, where a State decides that it will kill its worst offenders, it should be done with some discretion? Justice, to be done, does not need to be digested over toast and coffee, nor delivered by podcast to bored taxi-drivers.

    jgm2 said...

    The Isle of Harris is a mite extreme, mr jgm2, even for you.

    I could have suggested Yell or Unst but as I say I'm all heart. The fuckers would probably end up with all the oil and beating us at cricket anyway.

    call me ishmael said...

    Interesting, mr squitch, a snuff movie by another name, that's exactly what it is. And that's one of the reasons it should be forbidden.

    jgm2 said...

    a snuff movie by another name, that's exactly what it is. And that's one of the reasons it should be forbidden.

    Noooh. Justice should be seen to be done. Perhaps some people joke about wishing to see Blair, Brown and his cabinet hung from cranes in Hyde park so they are visible from practically every home in London.

    But I'm not one of them.

    Because, you know, actually it's not fucking well okay to go along with Bush starting a war in Iraq simply to further your own career nor is it okay to completely fuck up the UK economy and condemn the entire population to tax rises and effective (or real) paycuts as we pay for your vainglorious posturing. Aside from the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths rubber-stamped by their personal ambition we will have millions unemployed, social division, riots on the streets and and hundreds committing suicide in despair.

    And for what? So that Labour could buy another five years at the steering wheel of UK Plc? And for no other reason.

    Thankyou Labour. You cunting cunts.

    Time for Dave to get onto Liebherr and rent a couple of cranes. After a show of hands down at the Big House obviously. Got to do these things all legal-like.

    call me ishmael said...

    Many would argue that being dead is considerably better than doing a full life term, I am not one of them but the dead certainly do not suffer, they do not exist; if visible punishment is the aim Death's escapade is the briefest such.

    Blair, of course, and so many more should be indicted but his death would be cold comfort; his daily existence, neutered, depersonalised, deprived, restricted, bullied and ignored in penal servitude is likely to bring more retributional comfort to the relatives of those bereaved by him than would his sudden death.

    Nobody who is an opponent of the death penalty, mr jgm2, is likely, actually, to think "it is fucking well ok to go along with Bush." - are they now?

    More likely to be the capital punishers, if you think about. Hanging Saddam was one of the main aims, I would think, of the Bush/Cheney/Blair war, didn't he attempt to top George senior?

    I do share your distaste for NewLabour but I think that part of any journey away from that sort of totalitarianism would involve a repudiation of the State's right to kill us, guilty, or, as is so often the case, innocent.

    And that's another reason.

    jgm2 said...

    Mr Ishmael, I'm more than aware that the state is not to be trusted with anything including the administration of justice which is why I did, in my initial contribution, temper my wish to see folk who - in a perfect world desperately need to be executed - forced instead to spend time in contemplative reflection in the most inhuman conditions I can envisage..

    my preferred method of retribution would involve if not a short drop or a hollow-point round - to allow for judicial, political and police fit-ups, foul-ups and cover-ups - then 120 years splitting rocks on the Isle of Harris.

    Naturally those so incarcerated should be provided with a ceiling hook and washing line should they decide the pain of their existence is outweighed by the benefits of death. The fact that so few inmates, even those on death row for 20 years in the US or locked up with zero possibility of parole shows us though that for your average murdering inmate they'd much prefer the futility and monotony of perpetual jail to the futility and monotony of perpetual death.

    You'll be perpetually dead for long enough. Why the rush?

    Since we're looking to punish them them we shouldn't be looking to give 'em what they want - although I accept that we must - since the record shows that the judiciary, police and government are more than happy to fit up any fucker as and when it suits 'em.

    call me ishmael said...

    "forced instead to spend time in contemplative reflection in the most inhuman conditions I can envisage.."

    But isn't that -inhuman treatment of other humans- the very sin from which we so recoil in those we punish? Doesn't logic dictate that we behave better than they?

    jgm2 said...

    the very sin from which we so recoil in those we punish?

    We must be careful not to fall into that self-created trap.

    Otherwise we would find ourselves unable to jail kidnappers - after all we would argue, why is it okay for us to hold people against their will but not okay for them?

    Why is it okay for us to fine the banks or insurance salesmen for false selling, to take money off 'em against their will but not okay for them to take money off people against their will?

    Such an argument - how can we tell people to do one thing and then treat them badly or indeed exactly the same if they fail to comply - is an artificial construct and not one I waste too much time anguishing over.

    There is much wisdom in the old 'an eye for an eye' but since we have become squeamish about poking out eyes, chopping off hands and stringing people up - with the only - to my mind - acceptable excuse being that the system is not infallible and so we cannot rectify mistakes then we should be trying to match up the punishment as best we can absent these permanent physical punishments.

    Hence fucking shit jails in fucking awful places.

    Mercifully yours,


    mongoose said...

    The argument could be put that executions should indeed be in public so that we can see them, be repulsed and call for it all to be stopped. Alas, the history is that nothing draws a crowd like a good execution.

    Executing people is wrong because killing people is wrong. We lock folk up to protect the public, and for penalty and repentance. We set this gentler example of mercy so that the wrongdoer not beyond redemption can reform, repent, and sin no more. True, the odd nutter has to be locked up forever but that is best done for the safety of the public not for the punishment of the nutter. It's about what is right and what is wrong.

    Members of society subject themselves to impositions: the criminal code, the taxation system and the various other limitations on our freedoms that society requires in order to function. It is the job of those we elect to represent us not to turn this into the Tyranny of the Law. If you have more MPs than me, you can make the law. It doesn't make what you want just, and it doesn't make what want I want unjust. Because the law says that this geezer can be topped does not make it justice. Justice is above the law.

    As we are about not to see in Utah. The Americans, damn them, even started their country because they understood this. Look at them now. Trigger-happy fucking children, eye-for-an-eye fundamentalist savages just like their enemies. They may as well stick him in an orange boiler suit - oh, they have - and cut his head off on the telly. The barbarism of dragging a man out 24 years later and blowing him away with a good shooting party is vile beyond understanding. Fucking monsters.

    Anonymous said...

    In 1991, Stephen Owen was acquitted - despite the evidence against him - of attempted murder of Kevin Taylor who had killed his son, by running over him in a lorry. Some describe the acquittal as a classic example of “jury equity”. Hundreds cheered wildly at the verdict outside the court.

    Some of the jury were moved to tears as Stephen Owen, 36, told how not only had he to come to terms with Darren's death but also how Taylor had served just 12 months of an 18-month sentence. At his trial he swore and gesticulated at the Owen family. Taylor had taunted the family, vandalised Darren's grave four times and forced the family to move their son's remains to a secret resting place. Wreaths had been strewn around the graveyard and Ghostbuster cartoons featuring a lorry placed in the flowers.

    Owen from the Isle of Sheppy was cleared by a jury of nine women and three men after a four-day trial at Maidstone Crown Court of six charges of assault and wounding, possessing a shotgun to endanger life, and attempting to murder Taylor.

    Taylor, aged 33, was driving a 30-tonne tipper truck recklessly when he killed 12-year-old Darren; he failed to stop at the accident in October 1989 just a few yards from their furniture shop in Sittingbourne, Kent. Taylor drove over Darren's head and body then accelerated down Sittingbourne High Street, taking a bollard on the wrong side of the road and hitting another car driven by a woman with two young children. Taylor had never held a driving licence, had a long criminal record for violence and driving offences. His record included two prison sentences, five suspended sentences and 21 court appearances since he was 14. His convictions included grievous bodily harm, burglary, theft, criminal damage, assaulting police and a string of driving offences. He maintained he was 'not a violent man'. He lost an eye after being shot with a shotgun in a family feud by a man later acquitted of attempted murder.

    Three months after Taylor’s release Owen went hunting for him for revenge. Owen shot and wounded Taylor twice at close range with a sawn-off 12-bore, double-barrelled shotgun. After three days on the run Owen gave himself up.

    At Owen’s trial, the judge Mr Justice Anthony Hidden said,

    “The case you are considering is by any assessment a very sad one … any father or mother or member of a family - and we are all members of a family - must feel a sympathy and an understandable compassion for a father or mother who has lost a child.

    “A child who loses his life from natural causes is, heaven knows, tragic enough, but if it is from a hideous death in an appalling road accident the loss must be even worse.

    “Any person who does not feel for these parents in their agony and anguish must be made of stone.”

    In his summing up the judge added:

    “If it should be that the prosecution has proved his guilt do not let the understandable emotions and sympathies distract you from performing the duty you swore in your oath of returning a true verdict according to the facts.”

    Anonymous said...

    After his acquittal Owen said,

    ''I would not advocate anyone harming others or defending yourself in such a violent way. When I pulled that trigger I had no intent because my mind was such a mess of turmoil and strain. I didn't really know what I was doing but I have certainly regretted what happened since the incident. At the time I felt enormous relief. But I have since realised the harm it has caused me and my family.

    “I felt I was being insulted as a man. I felt powerless. Now I feel my strength coming back”

    Owen was born in the East End and raised in a solid working-class family; he had rigid ideas of the male role as protector. He became a man obsessed with bitterness; the final straw was a 'cold and insensitive psychiatric report' on his mental state when he sued the truck firm for compensation.

    After the trial his wife Marilyn explained to a local newspaper that deep down in her heart she cannot say her husband was right.

    The events saw the couple driven to the brink of suicide, the near breakdown of their marriage and the ruination of their furniture business. They had been married for 20 years.

    Taylor denied he had been responsible for desecrating Darren's grave, and shrugged off accusations that he had sworn and gestured obscenely at the parents.

    The case created no law and was not reported. Newspapers followed the case with interest at the time.

    Anonymous said...

    Credit to,

    richard said...

    i remember that case, the bastard Taylor hid behind his girlfriend when he saw the shot-gun. A pity he wasn't killed, the useless lout.

    call me ishmael said...

    You know, mr jgm2, I am sure, that even by the standards of HM Prison Service and HM Home Office, the majority of people incarcerated in the UK should not be in prison but in places of detoxification, remedial education or care, that the system does not distinguish between the sinner and the sinned against, that there is a compact between Judge and Govament to perpetuate Society's failure to treat the poorest and the most vulnerable as it should which results in Judgey tossing his hair and saying Well I know I shouldn't send you to jail, you poor, backward illiterate who has never known a day's stability, but I'm gonna anyway.

    Is is the halt and the lame you would banish to oakum-picking on the Hebrides or just the sturdy murderer?

    As for mr anonymous's account there will be hundreds of other such cases but we have, we had to, as a large society, to exist within the framework of the Law and the Courts, we long ago abandoned victims' justice and quite rightly, too, large numbers simply cannot live together whilst individuals determine others' punishments on the basis of how offended they feel.

    Death Watch Beetle said...

    Anyone got a camera-phone video of the execution?
    That would be fun to watch - I really enjoyed the one of Saddam Hussein swinging freely.

    call me ishmael said...

    Yes, you and Dubya, by all accounts.