Execution in Utah just hours away

June 18, 2010 12:00 am

, SALT LAKE CITY, Jun 18 – A Utah death row inmate was counting down the hours to execution by firing squad Thursday as a flurry of last-ditch bids for mercy were turned down.

Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, is now set to become the first American prisoner in 14 years to be executed using the bloody Old West-style method at 12:05 am Friday local time (0605 GMT).

On Thursday, lawyers for Gardner sent a letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert requesting he intervene in the case, arguing that a commutation hearing before the state parole board last week had been flawed.

However, Herbert rejected the appeal in a response to Gardner\’s legal team.

"Upon careful review, there is nothing in the materials provided this morning that has not already been considered and decided by the Board of Pardons and Parole or numerous courts," Herbert wrote.

"Mr Gardner has had a full and fair opportunity to have his case considered by numerous tribunals."

In a separate development, Gardner also lost an appeal to halt his execution at a federal court in Denver.

His lawyers immediately appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court, but the appeal was rejected late Thursday, just hours before Gardner was to die.

A spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections said Gardner was "relaxed" Thursday, spending the final day of his life reading a David Baldacci novel — "Divine Justice" — while watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

He was served his final meal — steak, lobster, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and 7-Up — on Tuesday before choosing to commence a 48-hour fast before his execution for undisclosed reasons.

He met his attorney during the morning, after saying goodbye to his brother and daughter on Wednesday through prison bars. Gardner requested none of his family members be present at his execution.

Execution by firing squad was outlawed by Utah in 2004 but the ban was not retroactive, allowing Gardner to choose the gruesome technique instead of lethal injection during a hearing in April.

Gardner has spent 25 years on death row for gunning down an attorney in a failed escape attempt from a courtroom in 1985 during a murder trial.

Gardner\’s case has renewed debate about use of the death penalty in the United States while dividing the family and friends of his victims.

The family of lawyer Michael Burdell, shot dead by Gardner in his botched escape attempt, have testified that they were against his execution because Burdell would have opposed it.

"Michael was a gentle soul. And he loved people and he loved life. And he would not have wanted Ronnie Lee to be killed, especially in his name," Donna Nu, Burdell\’s fiance told CNN Thursday.

"I think that we as a human race — all the brilliant minds we have on this planet — we could come up maybe with something better."

Gardner will be brought into an execution chamber at Utah State Prison and strapped into a chair surrounded by sandbags to prevent ricochets.

A target will be pinned to his chest over his heart and a hood placed over his head. The five executioners, volunteers from law enforcement, will be stationed at the far end of a room facing the condemned man.

Only four of the marksman will be firing live rounds. One of the rifles will be loaded with a wax bullet, allowing room for doubt among the shooters about their role in the actual execution.

Gardner will be given an opportunity to say his last words and then the execution will take place.

If all goes according to plan, Gardner\’s death will be swift and "almost instantaneous," according to Utah Medical Examiner Todd Grey.

The four rounds that tear into Gardner\’s body will rip apart his heart and lungs, causing an almost immediate loss of consciousness.


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