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article imageWitness shares experience of watching execution by firing squad

By Kim I. Hartman     Jun 18, 2010 in World
Draper - Witnesses of the execution by firing squad of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner this morning at a state prison in Utah share their view and describe what they saw in graphic detail as the debate on the death penalty and it's methodology continues.
No one is questioning whether Gardner was innocent or not, there was no doubt of his guilt in the murders of two individuals. He was convicted of capital murder 25 years ago for the 1985 fatal courthouse shooting of attorney Michael Burdell during an escape attempt. Gardner had admitted his guilt and felt death by firing squad was appropriate. "If you live by the gun you should probably die by gun" said Gardner.
Many question Gardner's choice of a firing squad over other methods of execution.
Craig Watson, a cousin of Gardner's first victim, Melvyn Otterstrom in 1984 said "he felt he choose firing squad for notoriety" he said this didn't bother him or his family. "They just wanted him gone" and their desire was fulfilled early this morning.
Randy Gardner said "he was personally glad it was over," and had visited with his brother the night before.
At 12:15 a.m. After a quarter of a century on death row, Gardner, 49, became the first man to die by firing squad in Utah in 14 years.
In the observation room surrounding the death chamber, approximately two dozen witnesses viewed the execution, including relatives of the victims, state representatives, the news media and five people selected by Gardner.
"He clenched his fist and then let go," radio talk show host Doug Fabrizio, one of a small group of witnesses, said. "And then he clenched it again."
A medical examiner checked Gardner's pulse on both sides of his neck. When the black hood was lifted to check Gardner's pupils with a flashlight, his ashen face was briefly revealed.
He was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m.
"Ronnie Lee Gardner will never kill again," Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff later told reporters. "He will never assault anybody again."
The execution is carried out by a team of five marksman who volunteer for this duty. They shoot through a slit in the wall after the convicted murderer is seated and hood placed over the head. A target is then pinned to the heart and then these brave men carry out the sentence of execution. One of the men doesn't have a live round, which provides a degree of comfort to some of the volunteers who participate as members of the firing squad.
Gardner destroyed many lives and left many victims including Kathy Otterstrom and her son. She was married to Melvin Otterstrom. The young couple worked hard to get through college, buy a house and plan a future that was just right for their baby boy, Jason.
But on Oct. 24, 1984, Ronnie Lee Gardner murdered Otterstrom, shooting the 37-year-old accountant in the face at close range. Gardner pleaded guilty to the murder.
Neither Kathy nor Jason will weigh in on the death penalty, but both say they find relief knowing people who harm others suffer consequences.
Many witnesses were not so comforted by what they saw and are sharing their thoughts with the media.
Sandra Yi, a reporter with KSLTV in Utah, said Gardner fidgeted even after the barrage of gunfire. "When he was shot, some of us weren't sure if he had passed away because we could see movement," she said. "He had his fist clenched and we could see movement as his elbow moved up and down."
Sheryl Worsley, a reporter with KSL News Radio in Utah, described the moments after the execution as disturbing. "He moved a little bit and, to some degree, that bothers me," she said. "To some degree that mirrors the last few weeks of his life because he was fighting to stay alive the last few weeks and that seemed to continue on."
Execution by firing squad has been criticized by human rights groups as archaic and barbaric, an old west tradition that was popularized in military executions. Others, including Deborah Denno from Fordham University support this form of execution. Denno said "It is an irony isn't it that the method we think is most barbaric to our perception and in our history is in fact the method that is most humane. People think lethal injection is more humane because it's related to medicine and doctors and a peaceful way of death, but in reality, it's not."
Joann Thomas of RightJuris.com shared her personal feeling and said "the only cruel and inhumane thing about the death penalty is keeping someone locked in a cage for decades filing one appeal after another to escape justice."
Witnesses at Gardner's execution were warned that he would be shot again if the first round of shots didn't kill him.
"No man who has ever lived on this earth could survive four rounds from a .30-30 rifle to the chest," Gary DeLand, former head of corrections in Utah, told ABCNews.com. "You can almost almost shut your eyes and hit him from that distance."
One witness who has seen multiple death penalty executions talked with ABC news and said "He thought it was his responsibility to be an observer of the execution and report on it and he recognized his duty to be a good witness of the governments' severest penalty."
He said the execution that he saw by lethal injection worried him more because he was not bothered by it or by what he had seen. Not in the least. He likened it to watching someone be put to sleep for a mild medical procedure. There was nothing visually objectionable and it was over quickly and efficiently.
Not all executions by lethal injection or other means have been efficient.
But this was not the case in the firing squad execution of Gardner from this witnesses' perspective.
The experienced journalist said he became disoriented and couldn't catch his breath. He had a knot in his stomach and felt sick. He said the firing squad method of execution was a more honest form of executing a murderer from his view because it is exactly what it is intended to be, "a man being put to death for his crimes."
He wished the public could see what he saw, since it's being done in their name.
That is why he wanted to be there as a reporter. To be able to a witness and share the story of the execution's by both lethal injections and in this case, by firing squad. This is a part of history and needs to be told, as it happened.
Would he want to see another execution? After a moment of thought he said "I don't think I ever want to do this again."
The sentence imposed by the state of Utah has been carried out and Gardner is dead. This won't bring his victims back or instantly heal the families who were deeply wounded by his twisted and violent life. They will continue to live with the reality of his heinous crimes and his execution.
While supporters of the death penalty and protesters have different opinions many have shared one final thought- may God have mercy on his soul.
More importantly, may his victims find peace, obtain some modicum of closure and may the gift of mercy find it's way into their hearts as well as their soul.
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