, SALT LAKE CITY, Jun 18 – A convicted murderer was executed by a firing squad in Utah here on Friday after a flurry of last-minute bids for mercy were rejected, authorities said.
Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49, was shot through the heart by a five-man team of sharpshooters at approximately 0620 GMT), a spokesman for the Department of Corrections told reporters.
"The execution warrant was served at approximately 12.20 and 25 seconds," spokesman Steve Gehrke said.
Gardner\’s gruesome death was described as a bloody throwback to the days of Old West justice, the first execution of its kind in the United States for 14 years and possibly the last ever.
But there was an unmistakably 21st century twist to his final minutes of life when Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used micro-blogging site Twitter to announce he had given the final approval for the execution.
"I just gave the go-ahead to Corrections Department to proceed with Gardner\’s execution," Shurtleff tweeted shortly before Gardner was shot. "May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims."
Firing squads were outlawed by Utah in 2004 but the ban was not retroactive, allowing Gardner the freedom to opt for the gruesome method instead of lethal injection during a hearing in April.
Gardner had spent 25 years on death row for gunning down an attorney in a failed bid to escape from a court room in 1985 during a murder trial.
Gardner\’s case had renewed debate about use of the death penalty in the United States and divided family and friends of his victims.
Loved ones of lawyer Michael Burdell, shot dead by Gardner in his botched escape attempt, have said they were against his execution because Burdell opposed the death penalty.
"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\’s death came after a day which saw his lawyers fail with multiple appeals to have the execution stayed, lobbying Utah Governor Gary Herbert, a federal court in Denver and the US Supreme Court. All three bids were rejected.
"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."
The Utah Department of Corrections said Gardner was "relaxed" on Thursday, spending the day reading a David Baldacci novel – "Divine Justice" – while watching "The Lord of the Rings" fantasy 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.