Utah's Frontier Justice: Death By Firing SquadS

A death row inmate, when given the choice between execution by lethal injection or firing squad, wants the latter. He is one of four condemned prisoners in Utah who have asked for the option. State politicians fear a spectacle.

A judge today will decide if a warrant of execution will be signed for Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was convicted for a Wild West-style killing 25 years ago. Lawmakers, activists, and the family of the murder victim are against the idea, after the last firing squad execution in 1996 caused a media sensation. Utah is the only state to have used a firing squad since the Supreme Court reinstated capitol punishment in 1976. From the AP:

Two men have died in a hail of bullets since that decision: Gary Gilmore, on Jan. 17, 1977 - after famously uttering the last words, "Let's do it" - and John Albert Taylor on Jan. 26, 1996.

But quelling some good 'ol fashioned Western blood lust might not be easy, as several attempts in the past to repeal the firing squad option have failed. The 49-year-old Gardner's murder rap stems from a Bonnie and Clyde-inspired jail break attempt, in which he killed a Utah attorney, Michael J. Burdell, inside Salt Lake City's Metropolitan Hall of Justice:

Although he was handcuffed and surrounded by prison guards, a female acquaintance slipped Gardner a loaded, long-barreled .22-caliber handgun in the basement of the building just before the shooting. He shot Burdell in the head, wounded a court bailiff and was himself shot in the right shoulder before being captured on the courthouse lawn as he tried to flee.

Friends of Burdell, who was a pacifist, say executing Gardner would accomplish nothing, and that "Michael [Burdell] would have fought against the death penalty, that's who he was."

[Image via]