On June 18, double murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by a firing squad at the Utah State Prison near Salt Lake City. Gardner spent nearly 25 years on death row after being convicted of murdering a lawyer during a court appearance regarding previous murder charges.
Gardner’s lawyers had appealed his order of execution on the basis that the jury didn’t receive adequate testimony on the effects of Gardner’s abusive childhood. Two separate requests for a stay of execution were sent to Governor Gary Herbert and both were denied. Gardner’s lawyers also submitted three appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, which were also denied.
Gardner was pronounced dead at 12:17 a.m. Friday morning.
Capital Punishment in Utah
The death penalty was federally reinstated in 1976 and each state has the authority to decide to allow capital punishment or not. There have been 1,217 executions nationwide since 1976 of which only three were executed by firing squad.
Utah has executed seven people since 1976. Of all the states, Utah is ranked 19th in executions per capita according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Executions in Texas and Virginia combined account for nearly half of all executions nationwide.
Gardner may be the last person executed by firing squad in Utah. In 2004, the state outlawed execution by firing squad and ruled that all executions would be by legal injection. However, prisoners sentenced to death before 2004, like Gardner, would be allowed to choose between the two methods.
Opposition to the Death Penalty
Many argue that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional.
Executing someone is usually more expensive than incarcerating them for life. In Maryland, death penalty cases cost three times more than cases where prosecutors do not seek the death penalty. Advocates against the death penalty argue that the excess funds spent on death penalty trials could be used on other forms of crime control and prevention.
A recent survey of expert criminologists by the Death Penalty Information Center shows that 88 percent reject the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. The Center also polled police chiefs and found the death penalty was ranked last as an accurate way to reduce violent crime.
Also, citizens’ doubts as to the accuracy of the justice system have grown in past years. Since 1973, 138 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. That figure is around 10 percent of all persons executed since 1976. Given this striking error rate, some anti-death penalty advocates argue that capital punishment should be abolished to avoid killing a person who is innocent of the crimes for which he or she was convicted.